A crowd of 40 protesters rallied around tents in front of the City-County Building on the afternoon of Aug. 21. What looked like the potential second coming of Occupy Pittsburgh
, was actually a rally for the residents of the Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty, who are facing a mass eviction if the owners are allowed to renovate the property.
The tents were put up to symbolize that continued loss of affordable housing in the city of Pittsburgh. One protester shouted “if we don’t have places to stay in East Liberty, I guess we'll just move into city hall.”
Photo by Ryan Deto
Protesters say Pittsburgh has lost 20,000 black residents in the last 30 years largely because of the loss of affordable housing.
In early July, residents of Penn Plaza, one of the last below-market rate apartment complexes in East Liberty, were issued 90-day eviction notices
, with no explanation from management. Three weeks later, after addressing a crowd of hundreds of nervous residents, Mayor Bill Peduto said he was able to get the owners the Gumberg family, or LG Realty Advisors, to issue a 60-day stay on the evictions.
Since then, the evictions notices have been taken off the table while the mayor’s office negotiates with the owners on the future of the buildings. Peduto hinted back in July that the property would be renovated to become a combination of retail and mixed-income housing.
Elizabeth Young, who has lived in Penn Plaza for 18 years, spoke at the rally and said “the only color they are accepting in East Liberty is green.” Young says that she needs to stay in East Liberty because of the transportation options it offers. She relies on the late night bus service to East Liberty to get home from her job at Heinz Hall, which can let out as late as midnight.
“I want [the Gumbergs] to at least let us stay until we have another place that we want to go,” says Young.
While the rally was rumbling the plaza in front of the City-County Building, leaders from the recently formed Penn Plaza Tenant Council were meeting with Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin to discuss their wish list for the residents.
Randal Taylor, former Pittsburgh school-board representative and current tenant council leader, spoke to City Paper
after the meeting and was pleased with the discussion. But, he says it was just the start of the process and that nothing specific was offered.
“Acklin was speaking a language we wanted to hear,” says Taylor. “There could be a path on the table for Penn Plaza residents to stay after renovations.”
According to Bill Bartlett of Action United, an advocacy group representing the Penn Plaza residents, the mayor’s office has shown commitment to working with the tenant council, but cooperation with the owners is a bit more up in the air. The Gumbergs were not present at the meeting on Aug. 21.
“We are having another meeting next week, and we expect the Gumbergs to show up,” says Bartlett.