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Penn Plaza Activists Criticize Peduto For Broken Promises, While Mayor Says The City Did Enough

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Sticky notes at Penn Plaza on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

Affordable housing activists are calling out Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, saying he hasn't done enough to help low-income residents evicted from East Liberty's Penn Plaza Apartments.

But Peduto responded, saying his administration has gone "overboard" to help relocate the displaced residents.

"To say that the city didn't do enough is an insult," Peduto said.  "Even when we did [find new housing], they said no, and now they're holding protests saying we didn't do enough."

In the summer of 2015, approximately 200 residents of the Penn Plaza Apartments were served 90-day eviction notices by developers LG Realty Advisors. This was a shock to the mostly low-income residents, who found out their homes would be razed to support an upscale Whole Foods grocery store, a plan that has since been cancelled.

Although the city stepped in to give residents more time to move, activist groups like Homes for All and the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition say the mayor has not done enough. Helen Gerhardt, a member of both these groups, said she and former Penn Plaza residents met with Peduto in April, and he promised to collaborate with them on laws that would prevent any future displacement of low-income Pittsburghers.

Both the activists and Peduto say those meetings continue to be delayed.

The protestors say they "will no longer wait for the Mayor to keep his word," and planned to share their concerns at a Thursday night protest. 

"We want to talk to the mayor about policies Pittsburgh can enact to be a more equitable city," Gerhardt said. "When we met with him in April, he was the one who proposed a further meeting to continue to talk about practical policy cities. We are very concerned that he has not followed through on his word."

Peduto said the city found housing in East Liberty for the displaced residents, and while some moved in, others chose to move out of the city. 

"With the few people [who are protesting] there were opportunities given to them for housing in East Liberty which they did not take," Mayor Peduto said. "They chose to move outside of the city."

However, some residents have said the alternative options were too expensive for them, and they were being priced out of their own neighborhoods.

The Penn Plaza Apartments are now mostly demolished, but uncertainty over what will go in it's place remain. Peduto said the development has taken so long because the city wants affordable housing to be part of the project, resulting in disagreements with the developer.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.
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