City Officials Say Penn Plaza Evictions Set Standard For Future Development

Feb 29, 2016

Councilman Ricky Burgess speaks about the lack of affordable housing at a press conference Monday.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

  Mayor Bill Peduto said the agreement between East Liberty developers and the more than 200 Penn Plaza residents they displaced sets a precedent for how the city will approach future deals that could encumber affordable housing.

Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin called efforts to extend eviction deadlines and financially assist with relocations the product of "good faith agreements."

Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty, presented the outline of its plan to redevelop its Penn Plaza apartments last year to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission. Construction of a mixed use development with possible retail space was stalled pending the relocation of existing tenants when the landlord delivered 90-day eviction notices last summer, which were later extended.

The first wave of residents had until Monday to move out. Acklin said only two of the 109 households affected have yet to find a place to live. Downtown-based nonprofit Neighborhood Allies are working closely with them, he said.

"When you’re coming into a neighborhood, and, in fact, attempting to displace folks, we’re going to expect that level of commitment, financially and otherwise," Acklin said.

Tenants, the mayor’s office and City Councilman Ricky Burgess brokered agreements with the landlord that led to monetary support and help with relocation.

Burgess, a long-time proponent of affordable housing, suggested the city could begin buying potential development sites and locking them in for future development. 

“We’re not just going to ask developers to do the right thing," he said. "We’re going to proactively protect residents,” he said. “The goal will be to hold every current resident harmless so as the East End grows, they have a place to be.”

Peduto and Burgess have both said the larger issue is the lack of affordable housing citywide. The two said Monday they are working on initiatives to develop more affordable units as well as a program to help people buy their own homes. No legislation is planned at this point, Burgess said.

Acklin applauded the development as part of a long-term reversal from the decades of divestment East Liberty faced, causing surges in violent crime and neighborhood blight.

“Growth is not a bad thing if there’s balance," he said.

There is still work to be done, he said. Residents of the second Penn Plaza building have until March of next year to relocate.