Activists deliver petition

Tyrone Jones (gesturing) and fellow tenants and activists deliver a petition to the headquarters of Odin Properties in Philadelphia.

(Photo: Renters United Philadelphia)

Renters in Philly Say: ‘Fighting Together We Are Stronger!’

The Philadelphia renters are part of a growing tenants’ rights movement, with advocacy that centers on the government support provided to irresponsible corporate landlords.

Tyrone Jones had good reasons for pulling on a bright gold Renters United Philadelphia t-shirt and delivering a petition to the corporate headquarters of Odin Properties last week. Jones is a tenant of Odin’s, one of the largest property owners in Philadelphia and the landlord for 10,000 rental units across multiple states, and he has been living through difficult conditions.

Jones uses a wheelchair, and only one of the four entrances to his building is accessible. Even at that entrance, the ramp is so narrow that he can barely fit through. The lock to the door to the building is hard to reach from the chair, the double doors of the elevator nearly impossible to navigate.

Leaks coming through Jones’ ceiling went unrepaired so long that the ceiling caved in. Now, mold has developed. The closest exit from his apartment has steep stairs Jones cannot descend. “God forbid if there is a fire on the side where the ramp is,” Jones says. “I couldn’t get out of this building at all.” A short video of Jones showing his building and apartment has been posted online by Renters United Philadelphia here.

Among the other renters joining Jones at Odin headquarters was Lori Peterson. Also an Odin renter, Peterson explains that the rodent problem in her apartment is so bad that bugs crawl on her while she sleeps. Cockroaches drop into any pot or pan of food while she is cooking. “They say they do pest control regularly, but they don’t,” she says. The front door to Peterson’s building has a hole where the doorknob should be, she too has leaks in her apartment, and she recently found a dead mouse on top of a dress in her closet.

The petition the Odin renters delivered was signed by over 450 people and states in part, “In neighborhoods across Philadelphia, particularly in Black working-class areas, Odin Properties has allowed its buildings to fall into disrepair... These unsafe living conditions are a direct assault on our dignity and well-being, exacerbating the housing crisis and fueling displacement.”

The petition calls for the problems to be fixed by July 17, along with a freeze on rent and evictions during the repair period and rent rebates for those who lived through poor conditions. The renters also call on the City of Philadelphia to inspect all of Odin rental properties and severely penalize all landlords whose properties violate housing codes.

The tenants point out that Odin is receiving generous government subsidies, with the Philadelphia Housing Authority paying the rent for many of the Odin units that are in the worst condition. The City of Philadelphia has even promoted its partnership with Odin, which receives reimbursement from low-income housing vouchers. “We are asking the city to light a fire under Odin’s behind, to be honest with you,” Peterson says.

Odin Property did not respond to a request for comment.

The Philadelphia renters are part of a growing tenants’ rights movement, which includes strong tenant union presence in places like Louisville, Kansas City, and Connecticut. Much of the advocacy centers on the government support provided to corporate landlords like Odin through direct subsidies or federal housing loan support .

On the way home from delivering the petition, Peterson received a call from Odin staff, asking for a meeting. Management was waiting for Jones at his building, asking to look at his apartment problems. No repairs have happened yet, so the renters have a plan to escalate the confrontation on July 18 if their demands are not met.

“I have at least a little hope,” Jones says. “When we are fighting together, we are stronger.”

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