The Winchester Tenants Association and the Philly Socialists are fighting the Friends Rehabilitation Program for systematically neglecting maintenance of the Winchester building in West Philly (4804 Chester Ave, Philadelphia PA 19143). We are asking them to sign an agreement with a timeline that commits them to fix the building and provide the tenants with fair leases.
In 2014, the West Philly branch of the Philly Socialists started a program called the Solidarity Network where we take on small fights with landlords and bosses. We regularly put up posters in West Philly with our voice mail number and email.
We won our first fight. We worked with a tenant to pressure an absentee landlord and won compensation for their property that was damaged by pests.
In October 2014, a Winchester tenant contacted us to request our assistance. We took up the fight to fix their heating, a hole in the ceiling, and a lack of respect from management.
As we learned more about the systematic neglect of maintenance throughout the entire building, and found out that there were bed bugs infesting many/most of the units – this fight snowballed into organizing the entire Winchester building.
We worked with tenants to facilitate the formation of the Winchester Tenants Association. The Tenants Association represents the interests of the tenants and works with the Philly Socialists to organize actions, meetings, and social events.
As of December 2014, this is our list of demands.
The Winchester Building provides 40 units of affordable housing in a neighborhood that has above-average rent and property price increases due to pressure from the growth of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and the University of Sciences. The demographics of the neighborhood are changing as white people move in and longtime black residents move out. We need to preserve affordable housing in our neighborhood.
From 2000 to 2011, the median rent in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood has increased by 36.8% more than inflation. By contrast, the city-wide increase was 19.5% more than inflation. If rent continues to rise faster than inflation and wages, poor people will be pushed out of our neighborhood and into lower quality housing.
What have the Friends Rehabilitation Program Done?
Despite having over seven months to get their act together, the FRP has refused to provide us with a written timeline for fixing the maintenance issues that they are LEGALLY and MORALLY required to do.
They are violating the terms of the tenants leases and the Philadelphia Housing Code.
They are violating the Quaker values that should be guiding their work.
Realization of equality involves such matters as independence and
control of one’s own life. Therefore Friends aid the nonviolent
efforts of the exploited to attain self-determination and social,
political, and economic justice, and to change attitudes and practices
formerly taken for granted. Friends seek to bring to light structures,
institutions, language, and thought processes which subtly support
discrimination and exploitation. Beyond their own Society, Friends
promote Spirit-led, sense of the meeting decision-making as an
instrument of equality. And Friends continue to examine their own
attitudes and practices to test whether they contribute as much as
they might to social, political, and economic justice.
(Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Faith and Practice, 1997).
They have started to address several items on our very long list. However, they have not done so in a systematic manner. The best example of this is that they need to commit to do monthly exterminations of the bed bugs in all affected units. An extermination drives bed bugs deep into the walls and floors. It doesn’t kill all of them and they will return unless you do monthly treatments (or move out all the tenants and crank up the entire building temperature to 130 F).
On a smaller level, they still haven’t fixed one of the building lobby doors which gets stuck or the loose hand railing on the front stairs. The fact that they neglect the most obvious problems that you can see immediately upon entering the building shows how bad the management is.
Where is the Money Going?
The Friends Rehabilitation Program refuses to explain where the millions of dollars that they receive from rent, rent subsidies, and other government funding is going. Tenants who have lived in the building for several years all say that the building had better maintenance up until 2011. For instance, the building used to have a property manager who kept office hours, two security staff, and a social room for tenants to socialize.
We do know that the former CEO C. Craig Smith increased his salary from $188,000 (2012) to $200,000 (2013) – a 6.4% increase (source: IRS 990 Forms). We do not know how much the current CEO is paid.
We demand that the FRP publish its budget and explain how much money they are spending on building maintenance.
We demand that the FRP sign an agreement with the Winchester Tenants Association and Philly Socialists with a timeline for fixing the building.
We demand fair leases.