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Final Penn Plaza Residents Move Out And ‘Nobody's Really Happy About It’

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
The final residents of East Liberty's Penn Plaza housing complex are moving out Friday, but some were still only able to find temporary housing.

The remaining tenants of East Liberty’s Penn Plaza apartment complex are moving out Friday, one day after Whole Foods announced it will not build a store on the site.

The owners of the development, LG Realty Advisors, served eviction notices to approximately 200 residents during the summer of 2015. The city immediately stepped in and eventually reached a deal with the developer to give people more time to move and to provide financial assistance.

Crystal Jennings has been helping her 64-year-old father, Jerome Jennings, and other tenants find housing and prepare for the move.

Jerome Jennings is one of a handful of tenants moving into nearby Mellon’s Orchard, but only temporarily.

“Right now, it’s in the vicinity where he needs to stay,” Crystal Jennings said. “It’s something for now, but we wish it was able to be permanent.”

Jennings said her father will only be able to stay there for 16 months, because that building, too, is slated for demolition.

Other tenants have moved further away. Close friends Mabel Duffy, 78, and Myrtle Stern, 76, both moved to the same apartment building in Verona.

“That’s the part that’s really sad because a lot of people, their doctors or nurses or pharmacies are located in the East Liberty area,” Crystal Jennings said. “Some people work in the East Liberty area, so now they actually have to travel a further distance to get to work.”

Zak Thomas, senior program officer with Neighborhood Allies, which came on board to manage the transition process, said there is more to consider than simply the cost and location of a new apartment.

He said Penn Plaza residents had built a community together, and that losing that community could be traumatic for some residents.

“There (are) a lot of other issues that need to be both dealt with and addressed … in addition to what housing may be available and what the price of that housing is,” Thomas said.

He credited volunteers like Crystal Jennings and more than a dozen other community organizations for helping make the transition smoother for residents.

“The community outreach has really been amazing,” Thomas said. “One positive thing you can take away from this is the outpouring of support. Anything we needed, people were usually willing to help out.”

Thomas said a veterans group volunteered to help the first wave of evicted tenants move out last year. He said he expects additional volunteers to be on hand Friday to assist with moving the last few remaining tenants of Penn Plaza.

At the direction of Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority contributed $300,000 for relocation services provided by Neighborhood Allies.

"This is not a day for celebration, but an example of why we need better protections for low income tenants in our city," said Mayor Bill Peduto in a statement.

Mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said the events of the last nearly two years have been a learning opportunity for the city.

“It’s been a really tough process and nobody’s really happy about it, including the Mayor, but we had to do something to help these folks,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is probably just more of a test run. It was successful in finding these new homes, but this probably isn’t the last time this is going to happen.”