Activists detail legal fight against HUD for Philadelphia housing

Activists from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Poor People’s Army described in a Hill.TV interview the coalition’s lawsuit against Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge over the removal of Philadelphia families from vacant public housing properties.

Speaking on Hill.TV’s “Rising,” human rights arm national coordinator Cheri Honkala and the Rev. Keith Collins, a member of the Poor People’s Army, accused HUD of preventing low-income families from living in abandoned publicly owned facilities, so the housing agency can potentially show them to real estate developers instead.

“These are properties built by HUD, owned by HUD to house those individuals that come within the poverty margins,” Collins said.

“We believe that they’re speculating for the real estate investors and speculators. They’d rather keep them empty and heated and [the] electric[ity] on rather than house people who have a desperate need,” he added.

A spokesperson for HUD did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, which also names private and government entities among the defendants.

The lawsuit, filed on June 29, argues that the city has more than enough vacant and abandoned properties to house every homeless family. On grounds of discrimination against people “with physical and mental disabilities and health issues,” the plaintiffs allege HUD’s inaction violates The Fair Housing Act.

“The plaintiffs maintain that the court should allow them to continue to occupy — without further harassment or threat of displacement from the defendants — the properties that have made their homes, and to appoint a nonprofit Act 135 Conservator to redevelop these properties as affordable housing options,” a statement from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign reads.

The Poor People’s coalition said it began moving more than 30 families into the vacant properties last year as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated housing insecurity.

“The shelters have been at capacity, and people don’t want to expose their children to COVID and want to stay alive right now. So we’ve been taking over abandoned properties,” Honkala told Hill.TV.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority closed its public housing waitlist in 2013. The average wait time for a home is now 13 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month extended a federal eviction moratorium through Oct. 3. The extension applies to counties with substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission, including Philadelphia County and most of the U.S.

Philadelphia’s own eviction protections ended in July.