After years of housing and homelessness advocacy by #OccupyPHA, the Worker’s Revolutionary Collective (WRC) and the Black & Brown Worker’s Cooperative (BBWC), we decided to gather with Center City’s unhoused people to demand permanent low-income housing, forming a group called Philadelphia Housing Action. On June 10, 2020, we established a protest encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway committed to remain until our demands were met: the primary issue being the emergency transfer of vacant city-owned properties into a community land trust.
We demanded that the Mayor’s Office exercise its jurisdiction, mandated by state statute, over the Philadelphia Housing Authority to transfer properties into a community land trust for permanent low-income housing administered by Philadelphia groups and local community control boards. The city continues to contend that they have no jurisdiction over the Housing Authority. However, the city was explicitly authorized by the state to exercise jurisdiction over the Philadelphia Housing Authority by Act 130, signed by Governor Corbett in 2012. The amendment’s purpose was to bring Philadelphia in line with the state of Pennsylvania and every other major jurisdiction where the Housing Authority is an extension of the city government instead of enabled to act as if it is sovereign. The Mayor has explicit powers to remove up to five members of the nine-person Board in any given year. James Kenney and Brian Abernathy are culpable as they intentionally ignore the Housing Authority’s malfeasance and neglect.
All Philadelphians are aware that there is no reason for any person to be unhoused when there are thousands of empty city-owned properties available for habitation. It remains a criminal act to allow these properties to remain vacant while people are dying on the street during anytime and is especially vile during a global pandemic.
After three weeks of negotiations, the city has refused to exercise its jurisdiction over the Housing Authority. Even when we moved our protest to North Philadelphia, the city still remains intransigent and will not force all parties to the table. They have offered hotels where only people with disabilities qualify and abstinence-based drug and alcohol treatment inappropriate for the residents. They’ve ignored our concerns related to the treatment smoking ban which has already caused at least one person to leave treatment and ultimately perish. Many residents have already experienced trauma from being under the Housing Authority’s administration and in our racist healthcare system and refuse to give their bodies over to it once again.
The residents of James Talib-Dean (JTD) Camp on the Parkway and Camp Teddy by the PHA Building and organizers from BBWC, WRC and #OccupyPHA have decided that our only goal is permanent housing. Without permanent housing and real solutions to the issue of homelessness, we will not move the JTD Encampment.
If we merely move to another space, then it is another issue for another community. The opposite of intolerance is not tolerance. We are not an issue to be tolerated. We must be accepted as fully human and worthy of space and resources in this city. Housing is a human right and persons should not have to perform disabiltiy to get access to housing. Without that, we will let the city do their worst. The JTD residents are fully aware of state violence and are unsurprised, nor fazed at its continuation. The city has normalized its own cruel systems and refuses to change.
Lastly, Black Lives Matter. Our existence is not a crime. We deserve to exist in peace. We encourage the city to exercise its jurisdiction over the housing authority and to transfer ownership of vacant viable properties to a community land trust. We want HOUSING NOW.
We’d like to thank the thousands of individuals and organizations that have supported the camps and our organizations with supplies and donations.
2012 ACT 130 Amendment granting Philadelphia control over PHA
Inquirer stories about Philadelphia gaining control over PHA.
Examples in other cities:
Boston’s Housing Authority (Monitoring Committee with majority residents and term limits)
San Francisco recently had to take over its Housing Authority