Hundreds protest displacing residents from University City affordable housing

“Just leave us alone, keep your money and let us keep paying our rent,” one resident said

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An affordable housing complex in University City has become the center of Philadelphia’s latest gentrification battle.

Protesters spoke out Saturday against the displacement of longtime residents from the University City Townhomes near the corner of South 39th and Market streets. Organizers from a group called Save the UC Townhomes say they have planned a week of advocacy and action.

“Stop displacing Black Communities” was displayed on the shirts of hundreds of activists, supporters, and longtime residents as they marched down Market Street on Saturday.

“Leave us alone. You don't have to give us anything. If you just leave us alone, keep your money and let us keep paying our rent, that's what you can do for me,” said Darlene Formen, 60, who said she has lived in the townhomes for nearly 30 years.

Save the UC Townhomes said that property owners I.B.I.D. Associates had informed the Department of Housing and Urban Development last July they would be selling the property, and had initially demanded that residents move out this weekend. A HUD contract extension with I.B.I.D. has allowed residents to stay until September.

In March, City Council passed a bill proposed by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier to halt the demolition of the property. I.B.I.D. Associates sued Gauthier and the city over the bill, a case that is still ongoing.

The resident group has also asked for two more years of residency before being forced to leave, immediate maintenance repairs on their homes, and $500,000 per family which they say is 35% of the property’s sale price. The organization claims the property could sell for up to $100 million. The nearby University of Pennsylvania has also offered to assist in finding new housing for townhouse residents, protesters said.

Darlene Formen.
Darlene Formen. Photo credit Antionette Lee/KYW Newsradio

“The ask was for two more years. Give us two years. Compensate us. Who moves with no money? It’s impossible,” Formen added.

Melvin Hairston has lived for 28 years at the complex in the neighborhood traditionally known as Black Bottom. He said residents were promised vouchers to help them move. However, many say they have yet to receive the vouchers, a key point of their ongoing dispute.

“The housing market is very limited. And not just limited on places, but the pricing of the housing market. Nobody's making six figures to buy a house. Even trying to rent one will cost you $1,500 to $2,500 a month, and people don't have that kind of money,” said Hairston. says that as of April, the latest month with available data, the current vacancy rate for apartments in Philadelphia is 4.96%. It was as high as 8.63% in August 2020.

“There is no housing in Philadelphia. We already did the research. It’s nothing that PHA [Philadelphia Housing Authority], HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], or anybody else can tell us. There is no housing,” Formen added.

“We have elders. They are bedridden. We have senior citizens who are disabled. How the hell are they going to move if they can't lift furniture and move? What are you going to do for them?”

Protesters during the Save the UC Townhomes march on Saturday in University City.
Protesters during the Save the UC Townhomes march on Saturday in University City. Photo credit Joe Piette.

Hairston and his elderly mother currently live at the townhomes. He says as it stands, they have two months to move out.

“We’re talking about low income [residents] and people living off of disability, getting by on state checks or retirement. That doesn't leave us with any options,” Hairston said.

“We're not stopping. We had no plans of stopping until a just compromise or just compensation is made, or until y’all go away and let us be. It’s that simple.”

As Formen added, “Leave us the hell alone.”

KYW Newsradio has reached out to city officials but did not initially receive a response.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Joe Piette