The two women sitting in the couch are Mabel Duffy and Myrtle Stern. Both are senior citizens that were displaced when evictions were announced to Penn Plaza in 2015, and both have been active in affordable-housing protests. Both were also hopeful that they would get a chance to return to East Liberty to be closer to their family and social network.
Unfortunately, Duffy passed away before she could make it back. She died last week at the age of 79, while living in an apartment complex in Verona. According to Stern, Duffy is survived by her granddaughter Samantha. Her funeral service happened sometime last week, according to Stern.
Stern says she became friends with Duffy when they were neighbors at a housing complex on Larimer Avenue. They remained friends while living at Penn Plaza, and even were relocated to the same complex in Verona.
Duffy told City Paper in 2017 that Verona was the closest option for her because she had arthritis and a metal knee. “I can’t do steps,” she said.
Stern recently moved back to Pittsburgh into the Homewood House apartment complex, but Duffy stayed in Verona. Stern says Duffy’s goal was eventually to get back to East Liberty, where she had spent the most of her life, and where she could be closer to her granddaughter in Wilkinsburg.
Randall Taylor, a housing advocate who is also running for Pittsburgh City Council in District 9, says Duffy inspired him to keep up advocacy for more affordable housing in Pittsburgh. He says Duffy was always there to lend support as part of the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition.
“It is just a sad situation all the way around,” says Taylor of Duffy’s death. “Why isn’t there enough housing even for seniors in the East End. We need this kind of housing near family, near public transit, and near hospitals.”
He says Duffy having to ride 45 minutes by bus to see her granddaughter is not fair since she lived the vast majority of her life in the East End.
Stern says she loved Duffy, and she knew that the feeling was mutual. Stern knows Duffy’s housing advocacy will persevere, even in the afterlife.
“One thing she always said to me, ‘If we are protesting, we might not see the benefits, but we are protesting so others can see it,’” says Stern. “Maybe we are doing it for somebody else.”
Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition is holding an action tomorrow Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. at 200 Ross St., Downtown. They are calling for the Pittsburgh Planning Commission to reject LG Realty's most recent redevelopment proposal for the Penn Plaza site.