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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

7/9/20
Contact:Jennifer Bennetch
Philadelphia Housing Action
(215)554-1386
philadelphiahousingaction@protonmail.com
philadelphiahousingaction.info

JTD Camp on the Parkway Cuts Off Negotiations with the City

Demands Transfer of Vacant City-Owned Properties into a Community Land Trust for Permanent Low-Income Housing

July 9, 2020, Philadelphia, PA

  After weeks of negotiation, organizers and residents of the James Talib Dean(JTD) homeless encampment on Benjamin Franklin Parkway have ended talks with the city.  Citing the failure of the City to provide or even offer a single unit of housing to any of the camp’s 150+ residents and the imposition of an artificial deadline of July 11th for disbandment of the camp, organizers felt they had no choice but to walk out of negotiations.

  The James Talib Dean encampment was established on June 10th, 2020 on Von Colln memorial field at N 22nd St and Benjamin Franklin Parkway by a coalition of groups and homeless organizers calling itself Philadelphia Housing Action.  The encampment was conceived as a form of political protest over the City’s policies towards the homeless and the lack of low-income housing in the city.  The camp quickly grew from 5 residents to almost 200 in the span of a week, issuing a series of detailed demands, first among them: the emergency transfer of vacant city owned property into a community land trust for permanent low-income housing.  The camp quickly generated support from hundreds of volunteers, social workers, nurses, organizations and members of council.

Early on the encampment barred Philadelphia Police and City outreach workers from entering the camp, sparking heavy criticism from they City and various other homeless advocates.  “What they leave out is that once outreach workers enter the camp, the clock starts ticking for eviction according to their own published internal guidelines for ‘encampment resolution,'” said organizer Jennifer Bennetch “we barred homeless outreach precisely for this reason, to protect the camp from eviction.” 

 “We’ve all talked to outreach a bunch of times,” said camp resident Art Richardson “nobody here is new to the streets.  Outreach can’t give us what we really need, they can’t give us housing.  All they can get us is into drug treatment or a ride to a shelter.  Nobody here is being held captive, we can walk for ten minutes and get what they are offering at Hub of Hope or project H.O.M.E.”

  Talks broke down this week as the city pushed for disbandment of the JTD camp by July 11th.  “All they have offered the residents of this camp is access to abstinence-based drug treatment and for those who qualify, access to the prevention site hotel.  Not a single person has been offered real permanent housing, nor has the city offered a viable plan for where people are going to go when this camp is closed.  All we are hearing is that we can work together in the future, but that does nothing for people now.  We are in a crisis, this is an emergency, the city must do something about this issue, it cannot wait until next year or the year after.  We will not trade away people’s lives for the promise of working together in the future.”

  According to email correspondence, Eva Gladstein and city negotiators maintain they do not have the resources or power to open vacant city owned properties or transfer them to a community land trust.  Gladstein repeatedly states that the city has no power over the Philadelphia Housing Authority to compel them to meet with the protestors.

  However, in 2012 the city was explicitly authorized by the state to exercise jurisdiction over the Philadelphia Housing Authority by Act 130, signed by Governor Corbett. The amendment’s purpose was to bring the Housing Authority out of state recievership after a series of scandals by then PHA president Carl Greene.  The Act made the Housing Authority an extension of the city government, granting the Mayor explicit power to remove up to five members of the nine-person Board in any given year.

  Absent from the correspondence is any explicit acknowledgement from the City that there are thousands of vacant properties owned by the City itself under the RDA, PHDC, Land Bank, or tax-delinquent properties set for auction. 

  “The City is blaming the Housing Authority for failing to come to the table and the Housing Authority is blaming the City for preventing them from evicting the protest camp outside the Housing Authority.” said Jennifer Bennetch “Ultimately, they are both trying to avoid responsibility for this crisis and we need them to come to the table and exercise their powers to make a real impact on the lives of the many thousands of low-income residents of Philadelphia.”

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2012 ACT 130 Amendment granting Philadelphia control over PHA

https://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/PDF/2012/0/0130..PDF

Inquirer stories about Philadelphia gaining control over PHA. 

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/local/20111002_Two_bills_would_give_mayor_control_of_Phila__Housing_Authority.html
https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/politics/city/20120704_Mayor_Nutter_is_set_to_exert_new__tighter_control_of_Philadelphia_s_beleaguered_housing_agency.html

Examples in other cities:

Boston’s Housing Authority (Monitoring Committee with majority residents and term limits)

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2013/Chapter139
https://www.bostonhousing.org/en/Center-for-Community-Engagement/Resident-Empowerment/Monitoring-Committee.aspx

San Francisco recently had to take over its Housing Authority

https://sf.curbed.com/2019/3/8/18256742/san-francisco-housing-authority-takeover-assistance-federal-government

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