City rejects proposals from Philadelphia Housing Action; fails to provide housing options for encampment protesters.
Philadelphia, PA. After weeks of high level negotiations with Philadelphia Housing Action about the fate of the homeless protest encampments and public housing takeovers, The City of Philadelphia, led by Mayor James Kenney and Kelvin Jeremiah of the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), has declared it cannot meet the housing needs of its most vulnerable populations.
“Winter is right around the corner,” said Alex Stewart, of the Workers Revolutionary Collective, “we suggest the city work with us to create as many innovative solutions for the intensifying housing crisis as possible. What we are proposing with the transfer of vacant property would be entirely revenue and expenditure neutral while taking pressure off the existing services systems that were failing to meet people’s needs even before our current economic downturn and budget shortfall.”
On Tuesday, August 11th, the PHA listed 60 unnamed vacant properties under a ‘community choice registration program’ for public comment on its website to be followed by a registration and selection process which will be available for uses other than extremely low-income housing.
“We feel this is an inappropriate response to our demands,” said Jennifer Bennetch of OccupyPHA. “Putting former extremely low-income public housing units up for a ‘selection’ process means the PHA will give the properties to their politically connected associates, cuts us out of the process and moves these units which were formerly designated for extremely low-income housing to become near market rate housing or even non-housing related properties. This is not meeting us ‘halfway.’ Our demand is clear, we want these properties permanently established as extremely low-income housing for the residents of Philadelphia, a group which makes up over 25% of the city’s total population.”
In email correspondence on August 13th, Eva Gladstein, the Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services claimed the organizers were refusing to meet the city halfway and are acting in bad faith, saying that the organizers have refused to shrink the encampment and remove empty tents of those who have been placed in city services. An attached document summarizes the city’s position on the organizers demands, which does offer some medium term relief to the homeless, but lacks a comprehensive plan to support permanent housing for encampment residents or to plan for emergent circumstances like the first winter in which the homeless services system must provide shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have worked with the city to find people appropriate housing solutions wherever they may be available,” said Johnson. “I have personally filled out dozens of applications for hotels and treatment programs for the city, but the fact is that many of the encampment residents don’t qualify for these programs and the ones that do are routinely kicked out within days or weeks of being accepted. They often return to the encampment because it offers more than the city services.”
“There are no empty tents at the encampment,” said Stewart. “When people leave camp because they are accepted into a program or find other housing they are quickly replaced by others who arrive at the camp on a daily basis. If the city wants new people to stop filling in vacated spaces, they should stop conducting homeless sweeps and closing camps in other parts of the city. If they want us to leave willingly they need to produce viable options for where people can go other than the street.”
Between 2000-2014, Philadelphia lost over 20% of its affordable housing units, a trend which has continued, while the public housing stock has been steadily eliminated since the early 1990s. With the economic shutdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic, as many as 40% of Philadelphia’s renters have failed to keep up with payments and are facing eviction as early as September. The city’s current shelter system is based on congregate housing which creates severe public health challenges during the pandemic.