The residents of a soon-to-be vacated Penn Plaza building, in East Liberty, haven’t found a place to live. Last summer, LG Realty (run by the Gumberg family) announced 90-day evictions for residents of Penn Plaza, a two-building, below-market-rate apartment complex. After negotiating with the city and tenants, the owners extended the eviction dates for each building.
Residents in one building, at 5600 Penn Ave., have until March 2017 to move out; tenants in the other building, at 5704 Penn Ave., have until the end of February to vacate. The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority funded a relocation office at Penn Plaza, spearheaded by Neighborhood Allies, a local nonprofit, to assist residents in finding new homes. With less than three weeks until the move-out date, the unplaced residents, from about 25 units, are taking action.
The residents have formed a “crisis committee,” with support from the advocacy group Action United. Last week, they sent a letter to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, informing the administration that dozens of families are at risk of homelessness. Negotiations ramped up, postponing a Feb. 5 rally planned by the unplaced residents and Action United.
“This [negotiation] is happening because the residents got together and will not allow each other to become homeless,” says Action United Director Bill Bartlett. “What is being fought for is that the landlord holds up its end of the bargain.”
The original agreement states that at least 20 units will be made available in 5600 Penn, so some 5704 Penn residents can move in and have another year to find a permanent home. Zak Thomas, of Neighborhood Allies, says the 20 units are currently spoken for, and it’s unclear if the Gumbergs will offer any more units from 5600 Penn. However, the agreement also states that the owners will use “commercially reasonable efforts” to make units in 5600 Penn available as they come open.
According to a count by Action United and details from Neighborhood Allies, there are around 135 units in 5600 Penn and around 85 of them are currently occupied, leaving potentially 50 units that could house the 5704 Penn residents.
Mayor’s office spokesperson Tim McNulty wrote in an email to City Paper that the relocation assistance has been successful “with the overwhelming majority of residents placed, and [the office] will continue working around the clock the next three weeks to assist every last resident at 5704.”
The mayor’s chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, says the city isn’t “going to let anybody fall through the cracks.” He says meetings between the city, Penn Plaza tenant-council members, Neighborhood Allies and the Gumbergs have increased in frequency to every other day. As for the unused units in 5600 Penn, Acklin says negotiations have been “very productive.”
But Action United’s Bartlett says the level of stress for residents is “unbelievable.” He points to Myrtle Stern, an eight-year Penn Plaza resident. “She is [a senior], and her whole life is up in the air. These renters aren’t being treated fairly,” Bartlett says.
“I don’t want to move. I am 75 years old, who would want to move?” says Stern.
In addition to the anxiety of being displaced, Dana Hogan, a three-year Penn Plaza tenant, alleges management has neglected its duties at 5704 Penn for months. “When I first moved in, I thought the apartment was nice, but now there is no heat and an infestation of roaches,” she says. Hogan says she has resorted to heating her unit with her oven.
“This whole thing has taken a toll on me and on everybody in here,” says Hogan.
Jonathan Kamin, the Gumbergs’ attorney, did not return calls for comment on this story.