The Intercept - September 29, 2020
The Ridge Avenue headquarters for the Philadelphia Housing Authority is hard to miss. The newly renovated $45 million building in North Philadelphia is the newest office on the block, with floor-to-ceiling windows and life-sized blue and green block letters spelling out its acronym. It sits just across the street from boarded-up buildings and a vacant lot lined with signs that feature messages like, “Why does PHA’s CEO make over $300,000 yearly?” Ever since protests against police brutality took off across the country in late May, around 100 people have encamped at that lot, which is the site of a new, $52 million development project, distributing free snacks and supplies, as part of a local demonstration calling for broader racial justice: permanent, immediate housing for the city’s more than 5,000 homeless residents.
On Saturday, in a historic turn of events, organizers announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the city and Philadelphia Housing Authority, the $371 million agency that manages the city’s public housing, to turn 50 properties over to a community land trust administered by groups leading the protest camps, including Philadelphia Housing Action, a housing advocacy group. If implemented, it would be a huge win for housing activists in a city with a long history of organizing for community-owned property.
PHA, for its part, said that protesters’ announcement of the tentative resolution is “premature and disappointing,” saying that it could threaten any agreement at all.“Announcement of a deal is entirely premature,” PHA Executive Vice President of Communications Nichole Tillman said in a statement to The Intercept. “The encampment leaders continuing to negotiate in the media and in the realm of public opinion demonstrates their of lack of sincerity. Although, we remain hopeful about reaching an amicable resolution on the encampment, this puts any deal in serious jeopardy. PHA would only accept a deal that would include a date for the camps to be resolved. The encampment on Ridge Avenue continues to hold the community hostage and is jeopardizing a much-needed and long-awaited community development in the underserved Sharswood community.”
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