1. PROFIT. When LG purchased Penn Plaza Apts. from the URA in 1966, they were legally bound to keep the units affordable. After profiting from low-to-moderate income tenants for 5 decades, & after these restrictions expired, they displaced 218 households, demolished a community asset and destroyed almost 10% of the neighborhood’s housing. Even though the city offered to buy it back. Even though their portfolio was already worth hundreds of millions. Uprooting, displacement, and demolition are technically legal, but is it right to violate the community’s will and health to make a steeper profit?
2. BLIGHT. This plan will build hundreds of thousands of feet of retail and office space even though there are already many empty storefronts & office in East Liberty. LG owns the blighted Babyland and builds sprawling suburban strip malls. And we are asked to believe that two new massive block structures will not make the blight worse?
3. HISTORY. LG says that it is enriching East Liberty history by “restoring” its “retail corridor.” We insist on real historical context—the vital community of residents at the site, the city’s historical pattern of racist displacement, redlining, segregation. Which of these real histories does LG’s plan truly contribute to?
4. HOUSING. The neighborhood doesn’t need a giant office & retail park, and neither does the city. What the Affordable Housing Task Force appointed by the city says is needed is affordable housing; we are 17,000 units short. They say that their plan would “enhance the public health, safety, morals, comfort and general welfare of the community” This statement fools no one but the willfully blind.
5. AFFORDABILITY. In the required “Affordable Housing Statement” in the consent agreement, LG talks about contributing to “gap” funding for 251 replacement housing units within a 1-mile radius of the site, conveying the illusion that the 218 displaced households will finally be able to return. These “affordable” units will accommodate renters who earn up to 60% to 80% of area median income (AMI). Rents for a one-bedroom apartment at these levels are $855 and $1140 respectively. This is nowhere near affordable for most people displaced from Penn Plaza, and most people who live in the neighborhood. The median income of the neighborhood block in 2015 was $24,000, or 47% of AMI. Affordable housing should be built on site to accommodate renters at 30% to 50% AMI, which does accommodate Section 8 voucher holders.
6. PUBLIC MONEY. This “gap funding” is for 251 units that would have been built even without LG’s tiny estimated contribution of $2-$5 million. And this contribution, by the way, is from TRID tax breaks, so in essence, from the public coffers. They are clawing back more than half of these tax break monies for their own pockets. Moreover, the TRID boundaries had to be expanded to a one-mile radius in order to find the right number of units already in the works to attempt to put minds at ease. Some of this is far from East Liberty’s job opportunities, transit hub, and supermarkets. So LG paid people to manipulate the boundaries of a state tax program, they plan to pocket public money, and now brag about the social benefits of this development plan.
7. DELAYS. The 251 units are added up from plans for several scattered housing developments that would include a fraction of “affordable” units each. These projects will not go forward unless they are awarded state funding. At the rate this source typically funds Pittsburgh projects, it would take 7 years for the 251 “replacement” units to even be funded, much less built. Many displaced residents are elderly; will they even be able to return to their neighborhood within their lifetimes?
8. PUBLIC PROCESS. This entire process has been a mockery of “public process” in community development. Can any of this actually be called “public process”?
- They say the public is represented by ELDI, Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, Friendship Community Group, and the Enright Park Group. None of these groups contain displaced residents. Two of them are community development corporations with their own vested interests in the housing fund.
- The last public meeting was scheduled less than 7 days before it took place, with almost no publicity by the city.
- Each of our comments tonight will be summarized with just a few words for the planning commission who will vote on this plan, with no note of how many of the real public are in the room. (We are recording and sending in a transcription ourselves.)
- The public hearing will take place in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, impossible for many of us to attend.
9. REAL TENANT REPRESENTATION. LG’s lawyer insists that the interests of Penn Plaza tenants were represented in the 2017 consent decree by the Penn Plaza Tenants Council. This council negotiated eviction terms with the Gumbergs and then dissolved. How can a defunct council give input about tenants’ interests? The only organization that has represented Penn Plaza tenants since 2016 is Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition.
Please write an email to the Planning Commission about how you feel about this plan. The commissioners are the ones who will vote on this plan, and they receive almost no feedback from the public. The last time they had to vote on LG’s plans for the site, they said “no,” and much of that was due to public support in the form of letters and comments.
Looking for our talking points from the first public meeting? Find the original talking points here.