September 26, 2020

Wiley Cunningham (215) 626 8818
Jenifer Bennetch (215) 554 1386

Philadelphia Housing Action claims victory after 6 month direct action campaign forces City to relinquish 50 vacant homes to community land trust.

In largest self-organized housing takeover in the country, 50 homeless mothers and children to remain in 15 vacant city-owned homes, homeless protest encampments to take additional houses.

On Friday, September 25, Philadelphia Housing Action and the City of Philadelphia reached a tentative agreement to resolve a months long standoff over the fate of two homeless protest encampments and 15 vacant city-owned homes occupied by mothers and children. The unprecedented agreement to give homeless activists 50 vacant, viable homes comes after many months of housing takeovers, protest encampments, eviction defense of the houses, barricaded and blockaded streets and mass mobilizations to defend the encampments.  

“It’s a good start but it’s also not enough,” said Black and Brown Workers Cooperative organizer Sterling Johnson.  “There was already a major housing crisis in Philadelphia and we anticipate a wave of mass evictions on top of that due to Covid-19. The scale of the housing crisis would require thousands of new units of low-income housing but we feel that with this agreement we can at least get started moving people off the street and into homes before winter.  This is only the beginning.”

Under the agreement, the 50 vacant city-owned houses will be transferred into a community land trust set up by Philadelphia Housing Action – a coalition of housing activists who have all experienced either homelessness or institutionalization.  The land trust will permanently designate the properties for use as extremely low-income housing ($25,000 and below) and be managed by local control committees. A recent Pew report states that 140,000 Philadelphia households earn $30,000 or less. 

The 15 city-owned houses taken over by mothers and children will be included in the deal, with the City and Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) transferring properties that are available directly to the community land trust and allowing for families to remain in the unavailable properties until the land trust can accommodate them elsewhere.
The two homeless protest encampments, Camp James Talib Dean (JTD) on 22nd and Ben Franklin Parkway and Camp Teddy 21st and Ridge Ave will also remain while the residents who carried out a 108 day occupation for permanent housing begin to transition into the new houses and others who have come to call the camp home are supported in finding other appropriate housing solutions.  

James Talib Dean, an organizer with Workers Revolutionary Collective who cofounded the encampment and died during it’s first week would have celebrated his 35th birthday today.

“This will be a landmark agreement,” said #OccupyPHA organizer Jennifer Bennetch. “Not only has a group of poor and homeless organizers managed through direct action to win an agreement that will set a precedent for the entire country, but we have also forced the city to exercise its power of the Philadelphia Housing Authority and finally get them to give up these vacant homes that have been blighting our communities for decades.  We will continue to pressure the city to transfer more houses to be designated as permanent low-income housing, stabilize our communities and combat the displacement caused by market rate development and gentrification.”

Philadelphia Housing Action’s community land trust will fill a major gaps in the low-income housing spectrum by being able to accommodate people who might have criminal records or evictions histories that prevent them from accessing other housing options.  The houses being transferred are slated for auction or sale and would not be taking away from other low-income housing stock or jumping people ahead of the PHA’s waiting list.