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University City Townhomes Landlord Preps Lawsuit After City Council Passes Rezoning Bill

University City Townhomes, the affordable housing development at 3900 Market St. in Philadelphia, seen in 2020.

Months after it was first introduced, a bill aimed at protecting an affordable housing development in University City has passed, with a lawsuit soon to follow.

Philadelphia City Council passed bill 210778-AA on Thursday by a 15-1 vote, sending to Mayor Jim Kenney's desk a resolution that would impose a demolition moratorium at the site of University City Townhomes. The measure would restrict non-residential usage there to the first floor of any proposed development, WHYY reports.

IBID Associates, an affiliate of Altman Group, almost immediately announced its intent to challenge the bill with a federal lawsuit.

The bill, which passed out of the council's Rules Committee in October and waited for a floor vote for months after, was introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. Gauthier's 3rd District includes the site in question at 3900 Market St. The legislation came as a direct response to IBID declining to renew its affordable housing contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, giving residents of the 70 units until July to move out ahead of an anticipated sale.

Positioned on one of the most coveted corridors for life sciences real estate in the country, 3900 Market could theoretically fetch up to $100M as a development site. The combination of the zoning restriction and the demolition moratorium effectively blocks any sort of sale, IBID spokesperson Kevin Feeley said in a statement reported by WHYY.

“It is clear by her actions that the Councilmember is intent on using the power of her office to punish IBID and prevent it from exercising its constitutional right to sell the property,” Feeley said in his statement.

But the University City Townhomes development serves as a reminder that in the mid-20th century, the neighborhood known as Black Bottom was largely demolished to make way for the University City Science Center campus, now dubbed uCity Square. Gauthier's stated motivation for the bill is to preserve affordable housing in a neighborhood rich with opportunity, fighting against the concentration of poverty in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

IBID said it would work to line up a buyer for the site to integrate an affordable housing component into any future development, giving current residents of the property the right to return once construction is completed. Should a redevelopment include residences, it would reside in one of the areas of the city newly covered by a separate mandatory inclusionary zoning bill.

Unless some form of legal intervention comes between now and July, current University City Townhomes residents will still be forced to relocate regardless of the outcome of an eventual lawsuit. As the affordable housing on the site was tied to the property, residents need to receive new Housing Choice Vouchers from HUD, which have yet to be processed, WHYY reports.