The traumatizing clearing of the University City Townhome encampment in West Philadelphia symbolizes the ongoing racial injustice of gentrification. One solution: The city should buy the property.
This article was originally published in Philadelphia magazine.
Monday morning’s abrupt dismantling of the protest encampment outside of West Philly’s University City Townhomes served as another reminder that Black lives still don’t matter.
For the past year, residents from the affordable housing complex near the University of Pennsylvania have been fighting back against IBID Associates, who are putting the property up for sale. They have made their demands known — halting the sale and demolition of the homes, granting residents a two-year extension, a $500,000 financial compensation for each displaced family, and more. But for the predominately Black and brown families who’ve lived there for years, this means being displaced right into one of the most expensive housing markets in generations. While IBID is distributing housing vouchers to residents, many are claiming that the city’s ongoing gentrification crisis has made it harder for them to secure a decent alternative place to live.
At a time when local billionaires are joining forces to build new arenas downtown and certain city department budgets are seeing multimillion dollar increases, it’s unacceptable that the most powerful among us can’t seem to prioritize a basic human right. Philadelphia can’t continue call itself a world-class city when it tolerates second-class citizenship. Currently, dozens of innocent people are being forced to relocate due to the greed and mismanagement of developers.
By September 7th, UC Townhomes residents will be officially mandated to leave their homes, the places they raised their children, shared holidays and mourned loss. As the date approaches — and with protestors cleared — a sense of helplessness is setting in. And here’s the thing: IBID hasn’t even sold the property that’s causing all this chaos. So there’s still an avenue to ensure that the residents being displaced are provided for: the City of Philadelphia should purchase the land. City officials have stayed relatively quiet on this possibility — that needs to change immediately.
It’s the very least the city could do after decades of having developers such as Penn consistently push Black and brown native Philadelphians out of their homeland. The reason the UC Townhomes even exist is because of Penn’s development of University City in the 1960s and ’70s, which forced out Black West Philadelphians from the neighborhood, known then as Black Bottom. UC Townhomes was initially agreed upon to be the affordable housing safe-space for those who were originally displaced. Now Penn has remained noticeably silent as IBID causes the very same harm as the university did half a century earlier.
This is what white supremacy and racial injustice looks like.
This is what state-sanctioned violence against humanity looks like.
This is what an unchecked, failed system of gross capitalism looks like.
For law enforcement to tear down tents and break up a movement for affordable housing after two years of racial unrest is devastating. Seeing families being forced to live somewhere else and knowing what damage it could potentially do to their upward mobility is heartbreaking. This isn’t simply a dispute of land acquisition and business as usual, but a violation of human rights that the city must immediately step up and address. To purchase this property to ensure permanent affordable housing for all the residents now being forced out is the bare minimum to ensure temporary civility. But actually giving ownership of the land back to the current residents — who have already endured enough of the city’s failed leadership in protecting them — would be the true reparations they deserve.
Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. As an openly gay black journalist, he has made headlines for speaking frankly about intersectional issues in society regarding race, LGBTQ, and pop culture. @MrErnestOwens MrErnestOwens www.ernestowens.com