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Penn Plaza: A Different Side of The Story

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Sunday, February 28th, for the second time in less than a month, The Mission Continues 2nd Local Pittsburgh Platoon dedicated their time and service to help the residents of Penn Plaza move to new apartments and homes.IMG_2453edited

The group of veterans were joined by other volunteers including the IAS relocation and Neighborhood Allies teams, who lent a helping hand. Residents packed their belongings in boxes, collected and delivered by local nonprofits, and watched as the 20+ volunteers marched up and down the hallways and stairwells helping to load their belongings into a donated UHAUL van.

Some residents were making a temporary move from 5600 Penn (which will be razed later this spring), to 5704 Penn (which won’t be razed until after March 31, 2017), to allow for more time to find a new apartment–a scenario made possible through negotiations with the building owner. Other residents were making more permanent moves to their new homes and apartments in the East End and other Pittsburgh city neighborhoods.

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At a press conference held by Mayor Peduto on February 29th, representatives from nearly all parties involved spoke to the support being provided and the progress being made toward the common goals that were agreed upon as well as what this means for affordable housing issues, advocacy and solutions across the City of Pittsburgh.

Mayor Peduto’s Chief of Staff, Kevin Acklin, proudly stated that, with our team’s support and assistance, penn plaza mayors press conference 003today, all but 2 of the 115 occupied units in the 5600 building have found new homes. Since the press conference, one of those two tenants has moved and intensive efforts are being provided to the last tenant. Many of these residents managed to find new homes in the city of Pittsburgh, 54 finding housing in the East End and 14 in other city neighborhoods. Penn Plaza resident and member of the Tenant Council, Lillian Grate spoke about the process and reality the residents were faced with.

“Legally, they could evict us,” says Grate, “This is a private landlord we were dealing with, so what we did is appealed to their heart, in which they did respond.”

In a memorandum of understanding signed by all involved parties, terms were agreed upon that provided the tenants more time and support to find new homes and move, but that’s just the start…

Since our relocation work began late last year:

  • Transportation services have been coordinated / provided for several tenants that resulted in accepted applications in rental units in new neighborhoods
  • Coordination efforts are on-going with the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to provide weekly updated listings of Sec 8 Voucher-eligible properties to the applicable tenants
  • Department of Human Services has monitored the process closely and provided support services
  • Tenants expressing problems with credit or related issues have been referred to Financial Opportunity Centers for specialized guidance
  • Thousands of available rental listings have been provided for tenant consideration since the inception of the relocation office. Available properties in the immediate East Liberty and surrounding neighborhoods have been emphasized throughout this process, but numerous other rental properties with lease rates equal to or less than those at Penn Plaza and access to public transportation in other regions of Pittsburgh are frequently included in the listings
  • In addition to maintaining a weekly list of currently available rental properties for tenants and processing payment applications / disbursing checks, the relocation team works individually with tenants when possible to target specific properties that match their search criteria and assist with processing applications to potential apartments

City officials will be the first to admit that, although we’ve made good progress, and under the circumstances, we did all that what we could to help the residents of Penn Plaza who were facing eviction, this is not a war won. “We’re not here to celebrate, far from it. We were able to dodge a bullet. … But in this process in these past nine months, we were able to put together a plan to help all but two out of 115 residents — and our goal will be in the future to help all.” says Peduto.

“We know there’s a number of folks that still need to be helped at Penn Plaza, and there’s a number of folks throughout our city and our region that need to be helped as we think about affordable housing issues, as we think about gentrification, as we think about making sure no neighborhoods and the people who live in those neighborhoods are left behind.”

–Presley Gillespie, President of Neighborhood Allies

Earlier this week, the mayor’s office also announced that the city and Affordable Housing Task Force will host four forums where residents can provide input on policies, programs or initiatives designed to increase the supply of affordable housing. Participants are asked to RSVP online, but walk-in registration will be available for the 6-8:30 p.m. events:

  • March 7, American Legion, 2863 Chartiers Ave., Sheraden;
  • March 15, Lifespan Knoxville Resource Center, 320 Brownsville Rd., Knoxville;
  • March 23, Letter Carrier’s Union Hall, 841 California Ave., California-Kirkbride;
  • March 29, Kingsley Association, 6435 Frankstown Ave., Larimer.

Thank you to our partners on this initiative:

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