City officials maintained the protest encampments continue to pose a “significant life-safety risk” as both sides meet today in federal court, according to court documents. 

A hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. in U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania over a civil rights lawsuit that encampment protesters brought against the city this week. 

A federal judge could decide today whether to grant protesters a temporary restraining order or injunction that would prevent the city from disbanding the camps.

In court papers filed Wednesday, the Kenney administration called on the judge to reject the protesters' lawsuit and allow the city to retake the public spaces. 

“The remedy here is to allow the City to perform its duty to make the area safe and available to the public again, and to work with those in need of housing and services to obtain both in a safe and sanitary environment,” the city argued in court documents. 

The protesters’ lawsuit called for the continued presence of the encampments until the city provided them with housing and a fully detailed plan for providing permanent housing for those living at the encampments, among other things, according to court documents. 

The city argued in court documents that it has offered temporary housing to those at the encampment and storage for their possessions, and the protesters have failed to make valid claims for the relief they seek. 

The protesters' lawsuit was filed on Monday and prevented the city from enforcing its Tuesday deadline to disband the camp. 

Attorney Michael Huff, who is representing the protesters pro bono, filed on behalf of Irvin Murray, Maurice Scott, Dolores McFadden, Faith Anne Burdick and Edwin Jones. The suit names the city and Mayor Jim Kenney as defendants.

Philadelphia Housing Authority

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) filed brief in support of the city and in opposition to protesters’ request. 

PHA, which was not named in the lawsuit, asked the judge to remove the encampment located on PHA-owned property at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia until the city and potentially the housing authority could provide protesters with permanent homes. 

While PHA said in the brief that it did “not trivialize or discount the personal experience” of the plaintiffs, it contended that “their life experiences do not create a legal claim where none exists and do not entitle them to the sweeping relief” asked for in the lawsuit. 

PHA also argued that the continued presence of the encampment on its vacant lot would jeopardize the planned development on the site of a 98-unit, mixed-income housing project and supermarket, and have a “chilling effect on investment” in the neighborhood. The development is expected to begin in September. 

“Granting this injunction would amount to an injunction against the supermarket and nearly 100 new homes,” PHA said, according to court documents. “An injunction could unravel a decade of work to revitalize the Sharswood/Blumberg Neighborhood and deliver a supermarket to a food desert.”

It could be "decades longer" before a similar development plan is possible, PHA said in court documents. 

PHA owns and manages approximately 3,900 public housing sites scattered throughout the city. More than 40,000 people remain on PHA waiting lists to receive public housing. 

The encampments

The James Talib-Dean encampment is located on a baseball field on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 22nd Street. At least 150 individuals are living tents at the camp, which began in early June.

A smaller encampment is based on the PHA-owned lot at 21st Street and Ridge Avenue; approximately 20 individuals are living there. 

And a third encampment has popped up at the Azalea Gardens behind the Art Museum of Philadelphia. 

While protesters have several demands, their primary goal is to have PHA to transfer scores of its long-vacant properties to a community land trust in order to create permanent and diverse low-income housing options, rather than sell the properties to private developers.

City officials also have said that immediately transferring PHA-owned property is impossible because that housing stock is held in trust for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is a developing story. Check back with phillytrib.com for updates.  

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