L&I Enforces Gentrification in North Philly with Evacuation of Lindley Court Apartments
by Suzy Subways
When 200 residents of the Lindley Court Apartments in Logan lost their homes with two hours’ notice on Saturday, June 21st, the building’s fire alarm system didn’t work, raw sewage festered in the basement, putrid garbage piled up atop overflowing dumpsters, and there was no water because the copper pipes had been stolen. Reporters expressed shock at the conditions but didn’t ask the obvious question: Why were things allowed to get so bad that 50 families got evacuated?
“The Lindley was closed in 2002, and we’re convinced that they never eliminated the code violations before it was opened again,” says Phil Lord, Executive Director of the Tenant Union Representative Network (TURN). “Licenses and Inspections (L&I) just charges landlords $200 or $300 for an inspection, and it’s cheaper for them to pay that than to make repairs.
“L&I could fine landlords up to $2,000 a day,” he explains. “They could put a lien on the property and get things fixed so everyone can stay. Instead, they let it drag and drag, and then they put the tenants out. Tenants are afraid to complain about problems because they could end up on the street.”
And that may be the point. “Einstein Medical Center is coming down Broad Street, and Temple University Hospital is coming up Broad Street,” says displaced Lindley Court resident Stephen Von. “I’m assuming that’s the idea – kick us out, redo the building, and the young doctors and students get where we’re supposed to live.”
“I’ll Be Out on the Street”
“There are quite a few people staying at the Days’ Inn who are going to be homeless,” says a woman who was displaced from Lindley Court with her 13-year-old daughter and preferred not to give her name. The city is paying for hotel rooms until July 31, using part of an $80,000 settlement from the building’s owner. The rest of the money is promised to help tenants pay deposits and first months’ rent on new apartments.
But that help doesn’t make up for losing her home, the tenant says. “I was paying $525 for a two-bedroom,” she says. “I’ll never find that again. I’ve been on the public housing waiting list for a couple of years now. We thought that since the city put us out, they can put us back in a permanent place. I’ll be out on the street because I can’t afford $600.”
And without a home, she could lose all of her things. Two weeks after they were forced out, tenants were briefly allowed back in. “They gave us three hours to get all of our things,” she says. “My apartment was furnished. Nothing was packed up.” She is shocked at the callous treatment of residents. “I didn’t think they could do that,” she says.
Sophia Green and her two children lived at Lindley Court for three years. She and other displaced tenants have been working with TURN, and she says that if they had not been advocating for their rights, the city would have done nothing for them. “Because we got the media in, they put us up at the Days’ Inn,” she says. “They would have pushed it right under the rug.”
“It’s Like an Epidemic”
Tyrone and Louise Pullins live in a 40-unit building with similar code violations, and they are afraid that what happened to the Lindley Court residents will happen to them. In addition to dangerous leaks and mold, Mrs. Pullins says, “They shut off the water without notice. They turn the electricity off whenever they choose to. There’s an older lady on a respirator. She could die.”
When Mr. Pullins noticed that the people coming to do repair work were unskilled youths rather than the contractors whose names his building’s owner had used to get the repair contract, he made a complaint to L&I. Then, he says, “The owner came to my door and told me that L&I told him I was the one who made the complaint. That’s why everyone is so afraid to say anything about building violations. But you better fight, because if you don’t, L&I is going to shut it down anyway.”
Lindley-style mass evictions happen frequently in Philadelphia, he says. “It’s like an epidemic,” he says. One of the more publicized incidents occurred in 1996, when L&I condemned Ogontz Manor, a 208-unit apartment complex in Olney, and renters were forced out during the holidays. A year later, a new company had repaired and modernized the buildings, and soon LaSalle University was renting the complex for students.
“It’s happening all over,” Lord says. “It’s been happening for a while, but because of the gentrification now, it’s getting even more severe.” He says that many owners don’t want to comply with condominium laws, which offer some protections for current tenants. “L&I will shut it down for them. Then someone with money comes in and buys it for a few million dollars. The landlords and L&I are working together on this, and there’s no penalty for it. They’re allowing landlords to gentrify their buildings.”
Stephen Von argues that the theft of 35 feet of copper pipe, a professional-looking robbery that led to Lindley’s final emergency, can be traced to the owner’s interests. “Up until that point, the living conditions were tolerable,” he says. “Then someone stole the pipes. It was a conspiracy with the owner to get us out of the building.”
“This Is a Bad Start for a New Administration”
On July 14th, TURN led a demonstration of about 50 Philadelphia tenants, including displaced Lindley Court residents, at the Municipal Services Building. The tenants demanded that the city enforce a 2006 law requiring landlords to provide prospective tenants with a Rental Suitability Certificate showing that an apartment is free of health and safety violations before they decide to rent it.
In April, the law was suspended for 90 days after landlords complained that it was unconstitutional. “Nobody takes these claims seriously,” Lord says. “But instead of fighting for it, the city agreed to suspend it. We don’t know when the law will go back into effect. This is a bad start for a new administration. They say they’re going to be talking to us, but they’re not.”