By Suzy Subways
Six months after SBG Management served fake eviction notices to tenants at Admiral Court and Dorsett Court apartments at 48th and Locust in West Philadelphia, SBG tried again. The notices warned, “No one will be permitted access after 5 pm” on Tuesday, October 30th. Wasting no time, the Philadelphia Tenants Union organized an eviction defense rally that day at 5 pm to stop the illegal evictions.
Five o’clock came and went — and the residents stayed. “If people weren’t out here today, they would have locked this building,” said Admiral Court tenant Shakeiva Tisdale in an interview with The Philadelphia Partisan. With a crowd of about 50 tenants and supporters rallying in the courtyard of the Admiral building, SBG landlord Phillip Pulley and his property manager, Bill Hunter, didn’t show their faces.
But Pulley and Hunter have haunted the buildings for the past few months, despite Pulley not having a rental license. On September 13, an enraged Pulley allegedly assaulted a member of the Tenants Union in front of two dozen residents and activists, then yelled, “Scared you, didn’t I?” He then allegedly knocked a woman’s phone out of her hand because she was taking video footage of him arguing with tenants on the sidewalk. This was also witnessed by multiple tenants.
On October 26, Hunter was telling families to get out. “Bill Hunter knocked on my door on Friday morning and told me that on Tuesday, me and my family should find a shelter, so we’d have somewhere to go,” Tisdale said at the rally. “He had no paperwork, so I shut my door in his face.” [See video below.]
SBG escalated its intimidation by shutting off the gas in Admiral Court on October 26, and shutting off the water in both buildings on Monday, October 29. SBG employees came by that Monday and Tuesday to tell tenants to leave, according to the Tenants Union.
Barry Thompson, a leading member of the Tenants Union who has experienced illegal eviction himself, said at the October 30 rally, “Stay here — do not give up — because the only person who can evict you out of here is the sheriff and the city. Until the sheriffs of the City of Philadelphia come and tell you that you have to leave, you do not have to leave these premises.”
The law is not stopping Pulley from selling the buildings for a massive profit, however. According to publicly posted real estate data, the market value of Dorsett Court has nearly tripled in the past five years. Gentrification means landlords can charge much higher rents to tenants with higher incomes who are moving into the neighborhood. And it means landlords can push low-income tenants out.
But without their security deposits, tenants say their families cannot move. “A comparably sized unit would be an increase of at least $500 in rent,” Tisdale told the Partisan. Her family of four has gone without gas for the past six months, with urgent repairs not made. Without a working stove, she said, “We have to go out and buy dinner every day, shower at someone else’s house.” This has eaten up whatever money the family could have used to sign a lease on a new apartment.
With a new baby in the family who was born at low birth weight, these challenges are especially stressful. Tisdale’s mother, Jonaia Briley, said she is now taking medication for anxiety and high blood pressure for the first time in her life.
Leon Tyer, a Tenants Union member who was evicted along with hundreds of others from the Penn Wynn apartments last year, spoke at the rally about the stress evictions cause: “We actually lost people in that [Penn Wynn] campaign, because of the move. People who passed away due to stress. People who passed away who just didn’t know where to go…. I watched people who got transferred from places they didn’t want to be, but they had no choice, and further problems came and impacted them even more. Put in places where they really couldn’t afford to be there, but they were forced to choose whether to be homeless or go without a lot of things that were basically necessities.” Tyer urged tenants to tell their stories and express their feelings of anger and loss, so that others would know how evictions impact people.
A tenant named Ali also spoke at the rally. “I might not be the oldest, but I’ve probably been here the longest,” he said. Trying to find a new apartment is hard, he said, because landlords don’t like to take Section 8. With a baby on the way, and having quit his job to take care of his mother, the timing couldn’t be worse [see video below].
The tenants are demanding the return of their security deposits plus $2,000 to each unit so the families can afford moving expenses and first and last months’ rent at a new apartment.
Shani Akilah and three other members of the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative participated in the eviction defense rally. “I know what it is to worry where you are going to live next,” Akilah told those gathered in the courtyard to defend the tenants. Pointing out that every minute, four people are evicted in the U.S., they added, “Those of us that are working class and front-line workers are also the ones being displaced from our homes. Those things are all connected.” They spoke about strategies of resistance such as community land ownership models that keep homes in the hands of the people who live in them instead of using them to make a profit [see video below].
Klyde Breitton, a leading member of the Tenants Union, emphasized the strategy of bringing tenants together to build their collective power. “We were here with the power of the people to make sure Pulley wasn’t going to lock the building, wasn’t going to harass tenants, threaten people with violence, and kick them out.” he said. “Back in April, we said we wanted at least three months to move out. It’s been six months since then. It’s almost November, but we’re still here fighting — that’s what tenant power does.”
When asked if she thought the landlord or SBG employees would come back, Shakeiva Tisdale told the Partisan, “The goons come out at night when nobody’s around.” Speaking at the rally, Breitton pledged that Tenants Union members will continue to put their bodies on the line, as they did several nights and days leading up to the fake eviction date. “We’re going to stand guard and make sure SBG or their representatives is not going to come and shut down the building,” he said. “We’re here to stand with the tenants of Admiral/Dorsett.”
When the Tenants Union asked District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office on Monday if they would prosecute or stop the illegal eviction, they refused. “The laws are not there to save us — it is only us,” an organizer said at the rally on Tuesday. Residents and Tenants Union members promised to look out for each other in the coming days and nights. “Without the Tenants Union, we would be on the streets by now,” Tisdale said.
Breitton announced that SBG Management also sent fake eviction notices to residents at Fern Rock Gardens in the far north of the city. “We’re going to take things to Pulley on higher levels with our actions and get in his face to make sure he doesn’t do this to other tenants,” Breitton said as the rally dispersed.
Barry Thompson also promised solidarity. “We will stand with you in the Philadelphia Tenants Union,” he said. “And for any other landlords, slumlords, whoever you are, if you’re in the city of Philadelphia and you’re hiding in the cracks of your houses, we will find you. We are coming after you, and we are coming in power. We’re building tenant power — we’re asking for tenants to come together and stand with us.”
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UPDATE: At noon on November 2, tenant Steve Veney found two maintenance workers installing locks on the front and side doors to Dorsett Court. He called the police, who stopped the workers from installing the locks. As we post this article, the doors are still open. However, there is a latch installed that could easily be locked. Follow the Philadelphia Tenants Union on Facebook and @PHLTenantsUnion on Twitter to stay informed and support the tenants.