West Philly Tenants Fight Mass Eviction and Gentrification

Photos, videos and article by Suzy Subways

Tenants at the Admiral Court and Dorsett Court apartment buildings at 48th and Locust in West Philly joined the Philadelphia Tenants Union for a rally April 30 to express outrage at their impending mass eviction. On April 9, the roughly 100 tenants got eviction letters ordering them to leave within three weeks. An injunction won by Community Legal Services has allowed them to stay, for now. Despite this being an illegal eviction — the landlord has not had a rental license since 2015 — the tenants expect they will be pushed out within the next month or two. But they say they won’t go without a fight — or on the owner’s terms.

“I was terrified,” said Steven, a tenant who spoke at the rally, about receiving the letter. “This was my first time renting an apartment.”

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Tenants and supporters rally outside Dorsett Court apartments

Todd, another tenant, said, “If it wasn’t for Community Legal Services and the Philadelphia Tenants Union, I don’t know what I would be doing, and I know a lot of people feel that way. Being thrown out in the streets is bad.”

Steven, who has lived there for two and a half years, described mold, roaches, and rampant mice. “It’s bad here, and they’re trying to kick us out of a situation that we want to get kicked out of, but we don’t. You know? Give us the time to make sure that we want to leave, not on your terms, because you want to sell the building and get us out of here. This isn’t a vacant building, this isn’t a vacant lot. These are people’s lives you’re dealing with.”

(click on video to watch)

Some of the tenants have lived there for 10 to 20 years, and many have children who go to the elementary school around the corner. Karen Harvey of the tenants’ union announced at the rally, “For any parents who have children at the Lea school — or for that matter, any other school in the city, who will be affected by moving — after we finish, come to me and I’ll give you the name and number of a Home and School Association representative who wants to work with you.”

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Karen Harvey of the Philadelphia Tenants Union speaks at the rally

An elderly disabled veteran beckoned tenants’ union organizer Jarrett Smith to his wheelchair at the top of the Dorsett’s steps and spoke to him quietly. Smith lifted the megaphone and announced that the veteran has been living without heat or hot water for three months (click on video to watch):

Chants of “Phillip Pulley is a bully!” rang out. Pulley owns the buildings, which are maintained by SBG Management. In the April 9 letter ordering tenants to leave, SBG claimed that the city was closing the building. According to Philly.com, this was a lie: Pulley ordered the evictions because he is selling the building.

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And he stands to cash in big in this gentrifying neighborhood. The Dorsett/Admiral buildings are just around the corner from the former West Philadelphia High School building, which developers have turned into expensive lofts.

The tenants’ union is working to stop mass evictions and gentrification by pushing City Council to pass Good Cause legislation. Good Cause, also called Just Cause in other cities and states, prevents landlords from evicting tenants without a good reason, such as not paying rent, property destruction, or violating terms of the lease. Philadelphians have received “over 4,000 eviction notices this year,” Smith said. But because of groups like HAPCO in the landlord lobby, the bill has “stalled at six votes to nine.” Smith urged tenants and supporters to call City Council members and tell them to stop the eviction and vote for Good Cause.

The neighborhood’s state representative James R. Roebuck promised to stand with the tenants. He called the eviction “unfair, unlawful and evil.”

Tenants came up with the following demands, which they will deliver to the SPG Management office:

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“If you want to fight, the Philadelphia Tenants Union will fight with you,” Karen Harvey said, to cheers from the crowd. “We’re fighting for human rights, to live wherever we want, in clean and safe conditions.” Judging by the response she got from those assembled, people in West Philly are ready to fight.

(click on video to watch)

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