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Owner of West Philly subsidized townhouses plans to sell, displacing dozens of families. It’s an example of the vulnerability of affordable housing.

Thousands of low-income Philadelphia renters are vulnerable to displacement as property values rise and building owners are tempted to sell.

The owners of the University City Townhomes have decided to end their contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide subsidized townhouse rentals. They plan to sell the West Philadelphia property.
The owners of the University City Townhomes have decided to end their contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide subsidized townhouse rentals. They plan to sell the West Philadelphia property.Read moreMICHAELLE BOND / Staff

Dozens of families renting federally subsidized West Philadelphia townhouses must leave by July 2022 after the owner announced plans to end the federal contract and sell the site to cash in on rising property values. Hundreds of similar federal contracts around the city are scheduled to expire within the next few years if they are not renewed.

IBID Associates LP, the owner of the University City Townhomes, gave the required one-year notice to 69 households and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in July that it would not renew its Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments contract, which expires in July 2022, according to a HUD official.

Nationwide, more than 1.2 million families with low income receive this rent assistance, which local governments struggle to persuade enough landlords to accept. Under the terms of these agreements, which can span decades, HUD pays the difference between the charged rent and 30% of the household’s income. Philadelphia has nearly 11,600 HUD-subsidized housing units at privately owned and managed properties.

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Adiyyah Whaley, 35, has lived in the University City development for three years. Although the owners said they will help residents relocate, she’s not sure where she and her two daughters will go, and she’s worried she won’t get adequate assistance.

“It’s very, very hard to find housing. It’s nothing available,” she said. “I’m really running into a lot of dilemmas here.”

Owners of hundreds of properties throughout the city have contracts scheduled to expire within the next several years, according to City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose district in West Philadelphia contains roughly 25 contracts for about 740 units. It’s too soon to say how many of these owners will choose to renew their contracts, and Gauthier said she has not heard of other owners who plan to end them. But rising property values in the city make offering affordable units less attractive to owners who could capitalize by charging higher market rents or simply selling.

The city lacks enough affordable housing, so it needs to work to keep existing units, Gauthier said, standing outside the townhouses Thursday with state officials, activists, and residents. University City Townhomes’ federal subsidies have meant residents with low incomes could stay in the neighborhood.

“If we lose these units, we will not get them back,” Gauthier said. “Eradicating affordable housing on this site would be a grave injustice.”

The University City Townhomes development was built more than 40 years ago as part of a commitment to West Philadelphia residents that certain sites would be dedicated to low-income housing. Residents and University of Pennsylvania students won the concession after the city razed what was once the Black Bottom neighborhood for what is now University City and displaced thousands of mostly Black residents in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s and ’70s.

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As the area has grown through the decades, potential buyers have “frequently” contacted IBID Associates, which will consider bids for potential redevelopment plans for the property, the company said in a written statement. IBID will work with residents to preserve their Section 8 benefits and promised to cover all moving and relocation costs. The company added that it was “committed to doing all that we can to ensure that the residents are treated with dignity and respect.”

IBID is considering transferring its subsidized housing contract to another property owner for units nearby, according to the company and HUD. The company said it will favor redevelopment proposals that include affordable housing as it goes about looking for a buyer of the site. But city and state officials said they want a commitment to affordable housing there.

“The reality is this profit-driven housing market creates an ever-declining number of affordable housing units,” said State Rep. Rick Krajewski (D., Philadelphia).

Since 1983, IBID Associates, based in University City, has held a subsidized housing contract with HUD for University City Townhomes, which covers all 70 of its units, according to HUD. (One is vacant.)

HUD also will help residents relocate “to decent and safe affordable housing,” an official said. “The preservation of affordable housing for HUD-assisted residents is a top priority of this administration.”

Some residents have told the owners they want to move sooner than next July. But resident Karen Mouzone said she and others want to stay because they’re afraid they will be forced to move somewhere out of their community that is less safe.