Housing activists in Philadelphia are celebrating what they’re calling “the largest self-organized housing takeover in the country” after reaching an agreement with the city that would allow homeless people to live in one of many city-owned houses that are currently sitting empty.
In a press statement released Saturday, Philadelphia Housing Action, a group that describes itself as a “coalition of housing activists who have all experienced homelessness or institutionalization,” announced that the city government and the Philadelphia Housing Authority had agreed to transfer 50 vacant, city-owned houses into a community land trust established by PHA.
The agreement would also permanently designate those properties as “extremely low-income housing,” the statement continues, as well as allow the 50 homeless mothers and children currently living in 15 vacant homes to retain their housing.
“This will be a landmark agreement,” said PHA organizer Jennifer Bennetch in a statement. “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.”
The city government, however, maintains that housing negotiations, which began months ago alongside protest encampments of homeless individuals organized throughout Philadelphia, won’t end until the encampments disband.
“The City remains in negotiation with the representatives of the protest camps, but many details remain to be worked out,” a city spokesman told NBC10 Philadelphia. “Any agreement will require a date certain by which the protest camps will be resolved.”
Still, activists appear to be cautiously optimistic about the agreement and what it might portend. It might not be enough to solve Philadelphia’s housing crisis, said Sterling Johnson, an organizer with the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, in a statement, but it’s “a good start.”
“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,” said Johnson. “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.”