Residents of the Arvilla apartments in West Philadelphia are being forced out by their landlord, Mission First Housing Group.
But Mission First is no ordinary landlord… they are a 501c3 nonprofit whose whole mission is “sustainable” homes.
In late October, residents received notices to vacate the their homes by the end of December, at the latest. The building had been put up for sale and Mission First wanted them out.
Some of the residents were given as little as 6 weeks notice. All of them faced the prospect of hunting for new homes and moving during the holiday season.
Concerned by this, the residents and their neighbors organized as Protect Arvilla Residents, with the goal of stopping, or at least pausing, the evictions.
Since then, the group, with the assistance of Community Legal Services, has successfully argued for a delay in their evictions until January 31st of 2019.
Among the folks Mission First seeks to evict are a number of long-term Osage Avenue neighbors. They include an 81-year-old who has lived in the building for almost 50 years, and another neighbor who helps care for him. He has also resided on the block for 50 years, first in his family home next door and then in the Arvilla.
The youngest tenants are a single mother with a toddler and two children in elementary school, who came to the Arvilla about 6 months ago before being told the building was being sold. Their family is being uprooted in the middle of the school year and the holidays.
The Arvilla and its residents have been neglected for years. An elderly resident went for two years without running water in his bathtub and bathroom sink. There are persistent issues with heating and vermin problems which residents say go unaddressed and unanswered.
Mission First’s callous disregard for the welfare of their tenants is also reflected in the real estate listing for the property, where they are attempting to sell the building at market rate: over 2 million dollars. The listing boasts that the new buyer will be able to “vacate the units immediately after settlement”. It also suggests that with renovations to the run-down apartments, the building would attract new, higher-paying renters.
All this would be disturbing coming from any landlord. But it’s particularly egregious coming from Mission First, a non-profit organization which exists to provide housing for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens: the poor and disabled, the elderly and those suffering from chronic mental health issues.
Most of the Arvilla’s residents depend on housing vouchers to subsidize their rental payments. City, state and federal taxpayer dollars fund Mission First’s primary aim of housing needy Philadelphians. But now it appears to be putting a quick influx of cash ahead of the welfare of the Arvilla residents.
Selling the Arvilla for market-rate apartments means a net loss of affordable housing in the increasingly white and affluent Spruce Hill neighborhood. It will reinforce Philadelphia’s continuing economic and racial segregation. Mission First’s proposal to sell constitutes an abandonment of its stated mission to provide permanent, affordable shelter to our neediest neighbors.
Press around this issue led Mission First to appear in a meeting at the Spruce Hill Association, where P.A.R. showed up in force to demand that the evictions be halted and the building be made livable. In response, Mission First agreed to a meeting where Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and residents of the Arvilla could both be present.
However, Mission First has yet to set a date for this meeting — and the eviction date is right around the corner.
We want justice for the residents, who have few resources to withstand the financial and emotional toll of such an upheaval in their lives. We also want Mission First to bring every unit up to a minimal standard of livability, including supplying heat and running water to the tenants who are now without these basic amenities.
Finally, we want to discuss ways to maintain the Arvilla as a home for those of our neighbors who depend on subsidized housing. If Mission First will not reconsider their decision to sell, then the building should be sold to another non-profit who will make it livable, keep it affordable, and allow its current residents to stay in the neighborhood.