Deal reached to end North Philly homeless encampment

Activist Jennifer Bennetch, a leader of the Ridge Avenue encampment, said she was pleased with the deal.
PHOTO: Metro File

A homeless encampment in North Philadelphia cleared out Monday night after its leaders reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Housing Authority involving the transfer of nine properties into a community land trust.

It was the smaller of two related protest camps that have vexed city leaders for nearly four months. Negotiations continue with organizers over the fate of the encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Only about a dozen people remained at the encampment at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street, near the housing authority’s headquarters, when the deal was reached.

The agreement clears the way for a $52 million mixed-use development at the site. Construction, which had been delayed, will begin next week on a grocery store, bank, urgent care center and 98 housing units, PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah said.

Residents of the camp will team up with union members under a new program to rehabilitate the nine properties, all of which are in Strawberry Mansion. The initiative will be designed so the formerly homeless can learn skills that could help them land a job while also renovating their future home.

The properties will be placed in a community land trust overseen by the housing advocates who organized the encampments. Rent will be set at no more than 15% of a person’s income, according to organizers.

Jeremiah thanked advocates for bringing attention to the issue of affordable housing and credited Ryan Boyer, president of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, for bringing in union workers to participate in the program.

Jennifer Bennetch, a leader of the Ridge Avenue encampment, called it a “pretty good deal.” She has been protesting against the housing authority through her organization, Occupy PHA, for years.

“I’m surprised,” Bennetch told Metro. “Most of the time, I thought we weren’t going to get anything out of this except beat up by the cops.”

“We’re all excited to move forward and actually have this land trust and hopefully set a precedent for uses of PHA properties that will be sold,” she added.

Bennetch said her understanding is that concessions PHA made will be “on top of whatever else comes out of the other negotiation” about the larger encampment, which is on a ball field at 22nd and the Parkway.

Encampment organizers have said the city has committed to turning over 50 properties to the community land trust, though Kenney administration officials have not confirmed that information.

They say talks are ongoing, though it appears an agreement to clear the camp may be imminent.

“We’re moving towards a peaceful conclusion,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday. “The alternative is to forcefully, with police, remove people, and that’s not a pretty sight.”

“We think we’re almost there,” the mayor added.

Bennetch said the major roadblock is selecting which units will be transferred to the land trust. Camp leaders are looking for properties that don’t need a ton of work.

“They want the encampment cleared quickly after an agreement, so we need properties that we can have ready to live in quickly,” she said.

The encampments formed in June as a protest for affordable housing following massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations.