Ed. note: On Aug. 29, the Sept. 7 move out deadline for the UC Townhomes was pushed back to Oct. 8 after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to extend the complex’s affordable housing contract. This is the second time that the owners of the townhomes have received a contract extension from HUD.
In July of 2021, the residents of the University City Townhomes received a flyer calling them to a gathering in the affordable housing complex’s Second Court. Residents were hopeful that the meeting would announce the construction of something beautiful: a playground for the complex’s many children or new flowers for its sprawling green lawn.
Instead, Altman Management Company, which owns the UC Townhomes, announced that it chose not to extend its annual affordable housing contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—a contract it had been renewing for almost 40 years. Residents were given one year—until July 8, 2022—to move out.
This move–out date was later extended by two months, as HUD had not issued most residents Housing Choice Vouchers as of May 2022. These vouchers provide rental assistance for market–rate units and are required to apply for federally subsidized housing. Some residents still hadn’t received their vouchers in July, despite the new Sept. 7 move–out date rapidly approaching, and those that have received the vouchers face a closed low–income housing waiting list of nearly 40,000 Philly households. In addition, landlords often discriminate against prospective renters with these housing vouchers, especially in areas with better schools and transportation.
With little time to find housing and a competitive affordable housing market, residents could be left homeless post–eviction.
Located on the corner of 39th and Market streets, the UC Townhomes are situated in an increasingly gentrified, highly profitable area of Philadelphia that’s occupied by both Penn and Drexel. The townhomes were originally created as a small, 70–unit compensation for the more than 5,000 displaced residents of the Black Bottom, a Black working–class community that stretched from 32nd Street to 40th Street.
To protest the eviction, the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition set up more than 15 tents in front of the townhomes, planning to stay indefinitely until their demands were met. These include a halt to the sale and demolition of the townhomes, more time for residents to find alternative housing, repairs to the complex’s “unsafe and unsanitary” facilities, and just compensation for each family. The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office tore down the encampment on Aug. 8, enforcing a court ruling that ordered protestors to vacate.
For residents, the townhomes have more value than a dollar sign can measure—they’re a secure space for their families to grow and feel at peace. There’s a car–free street in the Second Court that’s dubbed the “Play Street.” A resident in the First Court hosts movie nights. Community–wide cookouts are held regularly. The buildings are close to child care, supermarkets, convenience stores, and health care facilities. The townhomes’ families feel safe. The complex is their home. Now, that could all change.
Krystal Young has lived in the UC Townhomes for three years. She studies nursing at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), but is considering switching her major to behavioral health. After finishing her studies, she wants to become a children’s mental health advocate.
Young grew up in West Philly on 50th and Cedar streets. She says her neighborhood has become more violent as Penn and Drexel continue to expand. “They’ve been buying a lot of houses and not building [more] houses. … They’re pushing us into a bubble,” she says.
After being falsely accused of a crime in 2016, Young spent two years fighting the charges until her case was thrown out. “I gave up on my dreams, my hopes, everything … I kind of felt like my life was gone,” she says. “When I got my life back, I really had to get my [mental health] together.” In 2019, she got a call saying that she was next on the waitlist for affordable housing.
She was on the waitlist for seven years—but Young felt blessed to finally get off of it.
After moving into the townhomes, she gave herself five years to go to school and get her life back on track. While living there, Young experienced the deaths of seven loved ones, as well as her cat, during the COVID–19 pandemic. At the same time, she watched her daughter grow into adolescence while balancing a heavy five–class course load at CCP and taking care of her Pomeranian, Shadow.
However, due to the eviction, Young’s five years at the townhomes are now reduced to three. Because of the stresses of finding new housing, she put her education on hold.
Young is anxious about her child’s future. As a single mother to a 14–year–old daughter, she notes that the Sept. 7 move–out deadline coincides with back–to–school season. “[My daughter] is happy here. She has a lot of community here,” she says. “The kids have a relationship with the teachers and to just break [the kids] off from them … that’s not going to happen to my daughter.”
Young doesn’t want to put her daughter in an unfamiliar school—she had the best grades out of her eighth grade class, and dreams of playing basketball in the future. Her daughter's education should serve as a stable foundation for the rest of her life.
Her anxiety is also tempered by anger and frustration—anger that Altman Management is prioritizing profit over the residents’ lives, frustration that the city government is complicit in Altman Management’s greed.
“They’re tearing this whole world apart, and the government is allowing them because it’s the law,” she says. “I’m going to stand up and help put a stop to [the eviction]. With our voices, we have to stick together.”
Lynn Green, affectionately known as Miss Lynn, is one of the many residents that have lived in the townhomes for more than two decades. She claims she talks a lot, but in reality, she’s just an excellent storyteller.
Green loves beautiful things—especially flowers. There are flowers and plants lovingly placed throughout her unit, and she enjoys looking at the purple and pink blossoms that are scattered across the field in front of the townhomes. She wanted to plant mums this year, but she won’t be able to because of the eviction.
Raised in West Philly on 62nd and Larchwood streets, Green comes from a large, tight–knit family. She grew up across the street from her grandmother in a home with seven other siblings.
“There were so many of us that we formed a group,” she says. “Every time we played, we were like The Jackson 5. We sang a lot of songs and imitated a lot of things we saw on TV.”
Green had three miscarriages and a tough pregnancy that caused her daughter—now 32 years old—to be born prematurely. “You don’t understand the love I have for her—she was my first,” she says. Her son, who is 31 years old, resembles her in his introversion.
As a single working mother, Green did everything she could to support her children. She recalls volunteering for her daughter’s second grade class, helping students learn how to read while also giving out lollipops, encouragement, and winter gloves for kids who didn’t have them.
Green was on the affordable housing waitlist for about two years while also enduring an abusive relationship. Spanning three units in 24 years, Green has watched her children grow up and have families of their own throughout her time in the townhomes. Now, she relishes looking after her four grandchildren, especially her 10–year–old granddaughter, the only girl of the bunch.
Teardrop (affectionately nicknamed TT)—her 24–year–old pet cockatoo—has also been by Green's side. But with the looming threat of eviction, she’s worried that other landlords won’t allow her to keep him.
Green feels lost if she goes too far from home—and she’s made one for herself during her long residency at the townhomes.
“It seems like all my memories I have to throw away. There’s nothing that feels like home anymore,” she says.
As the move–out date nears, Green can also feel her health decline. She suffers from panic attacks and lung disease, and she can feel them worsen as she copes with the stresses of displacement. It’ll be harder for her to seek out the medical attention she needs when she’s no longer blocks away from Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.
As the move–out date nears, she continues to look for housing to no avail. “[The] big change came. And somehow we weren’t included in this change. And because we don’t have enough money [to partake in] this change, we have to move. … I always wanted a nice home and beautiful flowers and just never got there.”
Since last July, Green hasn’t been able to celebrate her favorite holidays—Christmas and Thanksgiving—instead keeping her belongings packed, preparing to relocate.
“Think of your family,” she says through tears. “I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m a grandmother. I’m a friend. Think about those people out in the streets because of people who got money—the people who don’t [have money] have to move.”
Rhonda Moore has been living in the townhomes for almost two decades. She loves solitary activities, but despite her self–proclaimed introversion, the eviction has caused her to become a fierce activist who aims to fight housing injustice for the rest of her life.
After growing up in Germantown, Moore moved to West Philly at 12 years old. She fondly remembers the games she used to play with her friends—a drastic departure from how kids today spend too much time on their phones, she laments.
Moore has watched cohorts of children grow up together at the townhomes. When a play area was built, she watched them play kickball and tag. “Those are my happy memories. Seeing them actually play like we played when I was little, I loved it,” she says.
She reflects fondly on a corner store called Uncle Sam, which served chicken wings, french fries, and cheeseburgers so good that the lunch line would stretch out the door. There was a check cashing establishment nearby where Moore paid her bills and a beauty supply store where she got her daughter’s hair products.
All of that has disappeared.
At first, Moore thought the stores simply moved somewhere else. But as more and more businesses closed, she realized they were bought out so Penn and Drexel could build what they wanted. And she was right—the blocks adjacent to the complex are now home to Green Line Cafe, STUMP, and a smattering of student apartments.
“I’m going to miss the convenience and the close–knit [nature of our community],” she says. “I don’t know where I’m going, but if I’m living on a residential block, when I walk out the house, I’m not going to see familiar faces.”
Lately, Moore has been channeling her love for her community into activism. She felt the need to take action and defend the community that she loves so dearly, so she gathered a group of her neighbors and held meetings to talk about the displacement. Those meetings soon expanded and drew support from activists, politicians, and the general public.
“In the beginning, I thought it was just us. … [But] it’s close to 37 other properties that are going to go through what we’re going through now,” she says. “I can’t sit there and not do anything.”
Just blocks from the edge of Penn’s and Drexel’s campuses, the UC Townhomes lay on a prime location for luxury housing or commercial space—and Altman Management stands to make upwards of $100 million by selling it. Just like the corporate greed that drove out residents of the Black Bottom, gentrification is displacing the community of the UC Townhomes for the sake of Penn’s and Drexel’s expansions.
Altman Management’s decision will ultimately uproot the lives of nearly 70 families like Young's, Green's, and Moore's. Not only will they lose their homes, they’ll lose a vibrant community that’s given them love and support during moments of fear, joy, grief, and anger. Young’s daughter could lose the support of her peers and teachers that her current school provides. Green could lose her cockatoo, her flowers, and the ability for her grandchildren to safely visit her. Moore could lose watching the children of the townhomes that she loves so dearly grow up.
Bolstered with love for their community and for the homes they’ve created, the residents of the UC Townhomes aren’t going to go down without a fight.
But this resident–led fight isn’t just about the townhomes. The purpose of the movement extends beyond saving the affordable housing complex—it also serves as a reminder to the city that forced displacement won’t be tolerated. Moore says, “We’re making a statement. … [This movement] isn't just about us—it’s about anybody who’s been displaced.”