Protect the University City Townhomes Community and Preserve Philadelphia's Affordable Housing

We stand with the tenants of UC Townhomes and demand a halt to eviction from the residents’ home of many decades. This is merely the latest incident in a long history of displacement of Black families from the Black Bottom community. It is imperative that Altman make every effort to preserve this community that has thrived for four decades in the current property.

Altman must also support these families through additional cash support, which should at a minimum cover moving expenses, security deposits, and first-months rent if residents are ultimately displaced. Given that the expected sale value of the property is around $100 million, they can certainly afford it. 

At minimum, the UC Townhome families must be given Housing Choice Vouchers and adequate time to use them. A housing voucher can be valuable, but only if households can find a landlord that will accept it. This is a struggle in Philadelphia, as it is most everywhere in the country. Altman has a responsibility to affirmatively help families find homes in the neighborhood. Altman must also respond to tenant demands that they address repairs and maintenance issues at the UC Townhomes as they look for suitable housing.

In the longer run, the city, housing advocates, and the community must come together to prevent displacement. We should be planning ahead of potential displacement, not reacting to it after lives have already been disrupted. In the next five years, 1,700 more units may potentially see their HUD contracts expire, and 1,000 of these units are owned by for-profit entities like Altman. These latter properties, especially those in neighborhoods with rising property values like 40th and Market, are the most vulnerable to expiration.

We urge council to consider tenant opportunity to purchase legislation, as exists in peer cities like Washington D.C. The current residents of a property should always have the first chance to purchase rental properties that are at risk of being sold to new ownership that might displace them for profit.

We recognize that many tenants would face a difficult time raising the funds necessary to purchase a property. In these cases, the city needs a public option to purchase properties with expiring subsidies. We cannot maintain neighborhoods that are diverse in terms of race, class, and ethnicity if we allow existing affordable housing to be pushed out of neighborhoods where property values are quickly appreciating.

At minimum, tenants deserve sufficient warning that their lives are about to be uprooted. As it stands, Altman only had to give tenants one year of warning that the HUD contract would expire. City council recently considered expanding this window to 2 years, but this failed to become law. We urge council to expand this notification window.

There are existing properties whose subsidies are at risk of expiring that could be affordable to tenants. In these cases, given adequate warning, existing tenants may be able to raise funds to purchase the property in conjunction with local housing non-profits or with the aid of low- or no-interest loans from a proposed public bank. The Neighborhood Preservation Initiative could also be used to fund the purchase of these properties, converting them into permanent affordable housing. The first $400M from the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative was funded by a 1% tax on new residential housing. Philadelphia is in the midst of a building boom, and we urge city council to use revenue from this building boom to expand the NPI to preserve even more affordable housing. The city must also leverage money from State Sen. Nikil Saval’s Whole-Homes Repair Act to repair existing affordable housing for both tenants and homeowners.

In the last five years, the city has done much to strengthen the legal rights of tenants and protect them from displacement: Good Cause eviction legislation, a Right to Counsel program, a nationally lauded Eviction Diversion Program, the Renters’ Access Act, and one of the most efficiently run Emergency Rental Assistance programs in the country. However, in the end, tenants’ rights cannot preserve communities if incomes and social support don’t keep up with rents. We also urge city council to pass enabling legislation that will take advantage of Philadelphia State Rep. Jared Solomon’s recent legislation that would subsidize the production of new mixed-income properties in Philadelphia’s disinvested neighborhoods.

According to the NLIHC, the Philadelphia area is short 142,000 homes affordable to those at or below 50% of Area Median Income. The measures discussed above would help to close this gap, by preserving existing affordable housing and encouraging the development of more. We recognize that these policies will not help those currently at risk of displacement by Altman—only continued pressure from the residents, housing advocates and broader community can convince Altman to do the right thing by their current tenants—but we do believe that future displacement can be avoided if the city rallies around the housing legislation discussed above. We stand ready to support any city leaders who are ready to take up this pressing challenge.