The Struggle for University City Homes
by Irving C Jones
Recently, I visited University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia/University City, Philadelphia. I noticed a great array of tables and tents, with tee-shirts, buttons and flyers, most of which had to do with protesting the eviction of the tenants of the public housing project known as University City Homes. Inside one of the tents, a woman prepared plates of food not far from a DJ spinning records and kids playing. Everyone was there to drum up support for University City Townhomes.
After maintaining UC Townhomes as low-income housing for about 40 years, owner IBID Associates did not renew its affordable housing contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2021, IBD notified residents of plans to sell 3900 Market Street to a developer. The most recent deadline for residents to move out was Oct. 7. After the homes are demolished, the plan is to turn it into a science building for the University of Pennsylvania.
About 10 years ago, I remember walking through University Homes. Back then, it was the premiere public housing complex. The buildings were so modern and well-kept that one would think that the garden-style complex was privately owned.
Situated on 40th and Market Streets, University City homes is one of Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods. Presbyterian Hospital is across the street. A University of Pennsylvania affiliate hospital, it is a modern facility with the latest architecture and scientific equipment. Prominent city and community groups still rent its auditorium space.
University of Pennsylvania, one the nation’s oldest Ivy League colleges, is directly behind the homes in a neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants that service the college town. It’s a vibrant area that includes the Rotunda, a former church constructed in 1911 that currently serves as a cultural center for the performing arts. There’s a Cinemark movie theater, an ACME Market, a McDonald’s and a CVS. There’s a series of U Penn buildings that are used as art studios, and the famed Philadanco dance school steps away.
So why is University City Homes, a successful Philadelphia project, closing? The answer is greed. University expansion means greater profits for it and its business partners. The university says it needs a science facility beyond the two it already owns, so now tens of thousands of residents are set to be displaced.
What of the poor? What of the needy? What about the homelessness issue? The government and university don’t seem to care how this might mean that some the displacement may result in people losing their foundation and falling through the cracks.
As a nation, we say we don’t want urban blight or ghettos. That we want poor people to be able to climb out of poverty and succeed. But when we have a situation like the UC Homes, where mostly African Americans are the tenants, the needs of a university outweigh the needs of people just trying to live their best lives.
These UC homes residents need more than vouchers so they can go and find a place to live somewhere else. To save them is to save America. They should be left there and there should be more decent housing built across our country. Save UC Homes! Save the USA!