PHA reaches agreement with protesters at North Philly homeless encampment

A story you heard first on KYW Newsradio
Encampment at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue
Encampment at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue Photo credit Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

UPDATED: Oct. 6, 12:30 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia Housing Authority has reclaimed the North Philadelphia lot where dozens of Occupy PHA protesters had set up camp. The agency and the protesters have reached a resolution.

Under the agreement, PHA will provide encampment organizers nine rehabbed homes. Labor on the long vacant, blighted properties, will be provided by the Building and Construction Trades Council. The pilot project is called Work For Home, and will require the future occupants of the homes to put in sweat equity.

“I’m not happy to give anything, but we certainly respect the encampment leaders,” Philadelphia Housing Authority CEO Kelvin Jeremiah said. “So as of six this afternoon, we have control of the site.”

Jeremiah said the protesters living at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue had been encumbering a lot slated to break ground for a new supermarket next week. He said if he didn’t deliver the land to developers by Monday evening, PHA would lose $52 million dollars.

“We had building permits, zoning approval and funding. We were ready to go,” he said.

The Ridge Avenue encampment, also known as Camp Teddy, was much smaller than the encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which allowed PHA to reach a solution sooner.

Jeremiah said it was imperative for the current phase of the Sharswood revitalization project to move forward. The leg of the initiative involving the plot of land where protesters squatted for months includes a supermarket, bank and urgent care facility, and 100 units of housing.

“I can’t tell you how stressful it has been for the community who really, really, really needed that investment,” Jeremiah said.

“I’m surprised and happy about it,” says Jennifer Bennetch, an organizer with Occupy PHA.

She says they set up Camp Teddy on June 28. Nearly three months later, they’re moving out, having succeeded in achieving a permanent housing option for some of the campers.

“We really appreciate -- even with all the ups and downs -- the opportunity to move forward,” she said, as she watched campers, a trash crew and others haul tents and debris out of the encampment Monday afternoon.

“We don’t see a reason to continue to hold up the construction and hold up the site,” says Bennetch.

She visited the nine homes on Westmont Street in North Philadelphia. The homes had been vacant for more than 20 years and were not part of the PHA waiting list inventory. According to PHA, the homes will be given to a not-for-profit that is working with the encampment leaders for the benefit of those who participate in the Work For Home repair program.

While funding is still up in the air, Jeremiah says the rehab is expected to begin in 30 days. He says people could begin to move into the rehabbed homes by the end of the year.

The supermarket and shopping plaza on Ridge Avenue should be up and running by winter 2021.