The group’s lead organizer, Jennifer Bennetch of OccupyPHA, called the deal a “landmark agreement” that would pave the way for more transfers of disused properties to community groups. National experts on homelessness say the activists’ success was “unprecedented.” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor at Princeton University who has written about racist housing industry practices, called the agreement “tremendously significant.” “This is a model, a strategic model, and a tactic that should be generalized by housing groups across the country,” she told Democracy Now.
Philadelphia Housing Action—a loose coalition of many groups that endorsed the homeless encampments—describes the settlement with the city as a step in the right direction in its ongoing work to prevent displacement due to rising property values and provide desperately needed housing. The deal also represents a moment of reorientation for the group, as the activists move from agitating for reforms to managing what will eventually be a large, scattered-site, affordable housing organization that could include more than 150 member-residents.
Bennetch noted that the group has already been informally managing about 15 homes since March, when it started taking over unoccupied Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) properties around North Philadelphia, fixing them up, and moving in homeless families. About 50 people, mostly single moms with kids, continue to squat in those homes. But the coalition is now embarking on the new work of legally acquiring 59 properties, finding funding and supplies, rehabilitating the buildings, and establishing financial and governance systems.