Families who are set to be forced out of their homes in a West Philadelphia affordable housing complex are worried about how their children will get to their schools, or whether they’ll need to find new ones.
Over 30 children live in the University City Townhomes and attend area schools like Powel Elementary School, Science Leadership Academy Middle School (also known as SLAMS), and West Philadelphia High School. As parents scramble to find places to live before a scheduled eviction date of Oct. 8 for the complex, it’s unclear whether they’ll find satisfactory solutions.
The townhomes are due to be closed by the property owner, IBID Associates, once the company’s federal housing subsidy for the complex expires. The complex is located in an area that was once called the Black Bottom, a working class neighborhood that has been swallowed up by the growth of retail and residential facilities linked to nearby Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Three mostly Black public schools in the area were shut down within the past decade, and some critics say the changes amount to gentrification that hurts Black residents.
But parents in University City Townhomes have more immediate concerns. There’s at least a possibility that they and their children will have to move far away — potentially miles away — from where their children attend school.
Rhonda Moore has lived at the development for 19 years and has raised her three children there. Her youngest son attends West Philadelphia High, but Moore said that with the looming evictions, he will have to attend a different school. She is also worried about how he’ll process the switch because he is on the autism spectrum.
“He doesn’t like any changes. He knows that we are moving. I didn’t discuss the whole switching schools thing yet,” Moore said.
Moore doesn’t know where she is going to move to before Oct. 8. She said no one from the school district has contacted parents to accommodate their needs.
When asked about how the school system is helping Townhomes residents facing eviction, the district pointed to transportation benefits available to students. Students in grades 1-6 who live 1.5 miles or more from their assigned schools can typically receive yellow bus transportation, while students in grades 7-12 who live 1.5 miles or more from their assigned schools can get SEPTA student fare cards.
The complex is a relatively convenient location for many of the students. The average distance between the Townhomes property and the three district schools in West Philadelphia that most of the children attend is about three-quarters of a mile. The average time for students to get to school from their home using public transportation is 15 minutes, or 20 minutes if students walk.
Housing itself, or the lack thereof, is another major issue. Residents worry they won’t be able to find other housing by the move-out date because many landlords won’t take federal vouchers. And even for those that have such vouchers, they often won’t stretch far enough in a city that has a shortage of affordable units for rent.
Parent Krystal Young has lived at the Townhomes property for three years. She said her Section 8 voucher “is not equal to the housing rate, so where am I going to find a two bedroom that’s less than $1,300? I’m not.”
A district spokesperson told Chalkbeat that “if the family does not have adequate, fixed housing, they may qualify for services through our Office of Educating Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness.”
Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier’s office said it is open to working with the displaced parents and students to help them access the transportation services; the complex is part of Gauthier’s district.
The company TRIAD is charged with assisting the families in finding new homes. TRIAD declined to comment. Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for the property’s owner, IBID, said the complex’s owners are willing to speak with the school district’s transportation officials to address concerns.
Moore said she would like to move to a nearby area, in part because it would be convenient to stay close to things like their dental office. Right now, her son’s trip to school is just a convenient train ride away.
“I don’t want him to get uncomfortable at his new school if they don’t have what he needs,” Moore said.
Bureau Chief Johann Calhoun covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. He oversees Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s education coverage. Contact Johann at firstname.lastname@example.org.