Residents meet about Penn Plaza eviction notice

PENN PLAZA APARTMENTS (Photo by J.L. Martello)
PENN PLAZA APARTMENTS (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Even as residents railed against the owner of the Penn Plaza Apartments issuing a 90-day eviction notice, Urban Redevelopment Authority Chair Kevin Acklin was already negotiating a stay that would allow the residents to remain longer.

“The owners don’t care,” said one resident who asked to remain anonymous because he feared eviction. “They’re not going to help pay for us to move, but they want that rent and if you miss, they can kick us out in three weeks for not paying.”

He said the rent has increased $60 since he moved in, and now he can’t sign a yearlong lease.
“So if it’s month to month—they can kick us out any time,” he said.

The two Penn Plaza buildings were opened in 1968 by the late developer Pat Navarro Sr. using Federal Housing Authority low-interest loans. Sometime later, the Gumberg family’s LG Realty bought the site. The original federal loans, authorized in 1964, came with covenants that prevented redevelopment of the site for 40 years. The covenants expired in 2004, freeing the way for redevelopment.

Shortly afterward, the company stopped long-term leases. Upon hearing of the 90-day notices, Peduto told residents he had contacted the Gumbergs, and told them to “take a breath.”

Ed Gainey, who also met with residents July 18, said throwing people out who have few housing options is not right.

“I want to see more affordable housing in East Liberty, not less,” he said. “We’ve got residents in their 60s who’ve been their for 40 years. Their doctors are here. You can’t just ship them to the

Mon Valley. I’m not against development, but I put people development first.”

In 2010 the Gumbergs stopped leasing 70 of the 320 apartments in the two massive buildings. At $850, two bedroom apartments are going for just over half of what new apartments in the neighborhood rent for.

Gumberg had planned a mixed-use development on the 7-acre property, but because it surrounds a city-owned park, Peduto has leverage above and beyond denying government financial support and zoning clearances.”

“The park is our leverage,” he said.

Jonathan Kamin, attorney for the developer said the company has agreed to rescind its eviction notices for 60 days.

Peduto said he wanted to make this stand so other developers get the message that this is “not how we do business in Pittsburgh.”

In addition to rescinding the evictions, Peduto and Acklin want the company to add affordable housing to their development plan and create a fund to help residents move.

(J.L. Martello contributed to this story.)

 

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