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Philadelphia Tenants Union is taking on surprise evictions

A Philadelphia Tenants Union "Good Cause" canvass. December 4, 2017 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod
Think about the last time you moved.

You may have needed a moving crew, or a group of generous able-bodied friends and family, to help transfer heavy boxes and furniture from your old home into your new one. You may have been required to pay three months of rent — first month, last month, and a security deposit — upfront when you signed your new lease. You have taken a day or two off from work, either to move or view new vacant spaces. You may not have even gotten your security deposit returned from the home you’ve moved out of.

And when given short notice to move by their landlords, many Philadelphians don’t have the resources for a smooth transition into a new home, especially if they are disabled and face economic challenges — for instance, those with low credit scores are often denied housing when applying for a rental.

All of these very real scenarios are why the Philadelphia Tenants Union (PTU) is fighting not just for, but with Philadelphians. The tenant-lead organization has been advocating for “safe, decent and affordable housing for every renter in Philly” since 2016.

Take the Penn Wynn house mass eviction of residents this past summer. The landlord evicted the entire building with more than 230 units to create space for a $40 million renovation project, leaving 60 residents who were disabled, low-income or veterans with too few resources to move.

<em>Philadelphia Tenants Union at City Hall. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Philadelphia Tenants Union at City Hall. (Courtesy photo)

PTU was the first organization to step in to rally residents, organize demonstrations, and even physically assist the residents in moving into their new homes. While the original eviction date was June 1, the organization helped residents stay until September to better accommodate their moving needs as well as get their security deposits returned.

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“I was not able to find a home until the end of June and I moved in July,” said former Penn Wynn resident and PTU’s treasurer, Karen Harvey. “It was people like me who didn’t have a [rent] subsidy [who] had a much harder time in getting approved for a new home.”

Harvey said she was only able to move into her current home, also located in West Philadelphia, because she knew someone who was moving out of that home.

“It’s possible when you work with your neighbors to get your demands met,” explained West Philly resident and PTU secretary Emily Black. “We come up with those demands, make the landlord aware of that, and make a deadline for those demands to be met.”

The group’s goal now is to pass legislation preventing landlords from mass evictions with such short notice. On Oct. 5, Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Cherelle Parker and Helen Gym introduced the “Good Cause” eviction legislation (Bill No. 170854) to City Council, which amends “Unfair Rental Practices” of Section 9-804 of The Philadelphia Code to require “good cause for certain residential evictions and to provide for a first option for existing tenants to renew a lease, all under certain terms and conditions.”

<em>Philadelphia Tenants Union with Councilman Curtis Jones. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Philadelphia Tenants Union with Councilman Curtis Jones. (Courtesy photo)

While many were surprised by the bill’s introduction, this move was months in the making. Harvey said she caught Curtis’ attention after a demonstration outside of the Penn Wynn house in June to discuss the topic. And that’s not the only time PTU has been in the streets: Volunteers have been canvassing door-to-door to educate the surrounding community about the legislation.

The bill is currently in committee.

PTU argues the legislation has the potential to promote community stability, since more tenants will be able to stay in their homes. While it is different from rent control legislation, the Good Cause bill could also provide mediation for rent increases over a certain amount of money. Over 15 cities and seven states, including Seattle, Chicago, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have similar housing legislation enacted.

Currently, the organization has support from the Tenants Union Representation Network (TURN) and Temple University Graduate Student Union (TUGSA). PTU is seeking more nonprofits and organizations to build a coalition to advocate for Philadelphians’ housing needs. The group is currently in need of researchers, community organizers, designers and legal counselors.

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