Drexel students are on the eighth day of a sit-in protesting the selling of The University City Townhomes in West Philadelphia by the property’s owner IBID Associates.
On Feb. 21, students involved in Drexel Community for Justice hosted a rally alongside other Philadelphia organizations including the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes and Students for the Preservation of Chinatown (SPOC). According to The Triangle, Drexel’s student newspaper, the protest started on Drexel’s campus at the Dragon statue on 33rd and Market Street and developed into a sit-in outside of Drexel President John Fry’s office. As of Feb. 28, the sit-in is still occurring.
The University City Townhomes were created to provide affordable housing to a predominantly Black community in West Philadelphia after “urban renewal” or gentrification erased much of the community to make way for “university-affiliated commercial and residential buildings,” reports The Daily Pennsylvanian. In July 2021, the property’s owner, IBID Associates Limited Partnership, said they will not renew the annual affordable housing contract for the first time in almost 40 years.
An article published in The Triangle states that residents of the Townhomes have been protesting their “imminent displacement” for almost one and a half years, successfully pushing back the end of the contract for several months. The contract officially expired on Feb. 21.
Drexel’s Community for Justice shared on their Instagram, @drexelforjustice that they will continue with their sit-in until their demands are met. Their first demand includes removing both Brett Altman and David Adelman from Drexel’s Real Estate Advisory Council. Altman is a principal of IBID Associates and Adelman is a chairman for 76 Devcorp who is pushing to build a 76ers stadium a block from Chinatown. Their second demand asks the university to “directly commit $10 million to the preservation of the Townhomes as 100%, permanent low-income housing.”
Students from UPenn who are a part of the Coalition to Save UC Townhomes and SPOC also urged their university to give $10 million to the residents, claiming UPenn has the “responsibility to protect the UC Townhomes,” notes The Daily Pennsylvanian.
In a combined Instagram post, student groups @drexelforjustice and @spocphilly shared a video of a student speaking at a demonstration:
What Adelman is doing to Chinatown right now is directly tied to what he and Altman are doing to West Philadelphia for the past 50 years. So Drexel now sits happily, and Drexel happily allows these developers to plunder our city, to exploit our city.
The demand of the groups to remove Adelman comes from claims that putting a stadium so close to Chinatown will also cause gentrification. SPOC’s Instagram details that Philadelphia’s Chinatown is “one of the few Chinatowns left in the country” and that with implementation of a stadium “property taxes will rise, which will force residents out of their homes.”
Sports stadiums have affected Chinatowns before. Two stadiums were built in D.C’s Chinatown in the 1990s. “Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of people living in the D.C. Chinatown area fell from 66% to 21%” claims The Philadelphia Inquirer.
On the third day of the sit-in, The Triangle disclosed that President Fry sent a mass email to Drexel students:
While the University has not been involved in the sale or purchase of the townhomes, we recognize that this is a complex and challenging situation. Consequently, I have met with several UC Townhomes residents to learn directly from them about their experiences and to hear their ideas about how the University can be supportive.
Students participating in the sit-in at Drexel told The Triangle that the Drexel University Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department are present at the sit-in, only allowing students with Drexel IDs inside the building.
The students also noted that the police would not allow them to access the bathrooms on the first night of the sit-in from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and “tried to keep them up by whistling, jangling keys and making other disruptive noises.”
In his email Fry also stated he would “continue to safeguard the right of student protestors to assemble peacefully without violating any University policies or disrupting classes or regular operations.”
Emma Hogan is a third-year English major with a minor in journalism. EH954390@wcupa.edu