In total, 42 cars met in the parking lot of the former Shop 'N Save in the Hill District. Signs reading “Cancel Rent” and “No Pay May” adorned many of the side and back windows of the cars.
“This is a national call,” said Pittsburgh United organizer Celeste Scott before the cars started moving in the Hill District. “We demand support to cancel rent.”
According to housing advocates, nearly 12 million people were spending half of their paychecks on rent even before the coronavirus pandemic. Pennsylvania courts have ceased evictions and utility shut-offs during the pandemic, but no decision has been made concerning rent or mortgage freezes. More than 1.6 million people in Pennsylvania have applied for unemployment benefits since the closures were announced.
BREAKING: Dozens of cars lining up in the Hill District for a car protest, calling for rent/mortgage freeze in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania. pic.twitter.com/6lB5e4lGgR— Ryan Deto (@RyanDeto) May 1, 2020
The protesters were demanding rent and mortgage freezes in Allegheny County and Pennsylvania, as well as supplying rent forgiveness funds, during the pandemic and for at least 90 days after stay-at-home orders are lifted. They also want the federal government to zero out rent and mortgage payments nationwide, pass a nationwide eviction and foreclosure moratorium, ban utility shut-offs across the country, and provide a minimum of $2,000 in cash assistance to all American residents.
Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) didn’t attend the protest, but she said in a press release that “Everyone should have safe, accessible, sustainable, affordable housing all the time, and especially during a pandemic.”
Lee said it was “essential” that Congress include canceling rent and mortgages in the next stimulus package, and advocated for statewide and county-wide freeze on rent and mortgage payments until "everyone is back on their feet.”
“All Americans deserve infrastructure that doesn’t shatter in the face of a crisis,” said Lee. “All of us deserve to be able to carry out shelter-in-place directives, without sacrificing our livelihoods. A quarantine isn’t possible without housing security.”
Congressional candidate Jerry Dickinson (D-Swissvale) is also calling for the federal government to pass a rent and mortgage freeze.
When the protesters arrived at the Greenfield Bridge, the cars stopped and blocked two lanes on the bridge. A third lane was left open for cars to let vehicles pass. Protesters chanted “fight fight fight, housing is a human right” and other protest songs.
Millions of Americans have lost their lost their jobs & are struggling to get by. We must #CancelRent and we must do it NOW.— Jerry For Congress (@Dickinson2020) May 1, 2020
After discussing with police officers, protest organizers eventually hung the banner on the inside gates of the bridge briefly, before taking it down after the protest ended.