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Penn Plaza developer will pay East Liberty residents to relocate

| Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 3:50 p.m.

The owner of Penn Plaza Apartments will subsidize the relocation of more than 200 residents during a renovation of the two-building complex in East Liberty under an agreement announced Monday.

Pennley Park South Inc., a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., will pay $1,600 per apartment for residents living in 5704 Penn Ave. Residents of the building have until Feb. 28 to find new quarters.

The company will pay $800 per occupied unit at 5600 Penn Ave., and give residents until March 31, 2017, to move.

“If I can stay until 2017, that's a good thing,” said Jerry Murry, 57, a tenant in the second building. “I'm happy for right now. I don't know what happens after that.”

The city has agreed to hire a relocation consultant to help Murry and other residents find suitable housing. It's establishing a fund to develop housing for small businesses and poor families in East End neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto credited his Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin with brokering the deal about three months after some residents complained about receiving 90-day eviction notices in July to make way for the redevelopment. Acklin arranged a 60-day delay of the evictions, and officials, including Peduto, met with elderly and working-class residents who said they feared rising rents would squeeze them out of the neighborhood.

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which will administer the development fund, this month voted to redirect tax revenue from redeveloped sites in the East End to construction of discounted-rate housing in East Liberty. Pittsburgh will redirect a portion of the tax revenue generated from the Penn Plaza redevelopment and other projects to support the fund as well, officials said.

“We worked to create a plan that would allow residents to find appropriate housing,” said Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents the building owners. “This plan does that and provides them with relocation assistance.”

Under the agreement, the URA will seek a company to build a mixed-income residential development on the so-called Mellon's Orchard South site in East Liberty, which is vacant land. Plans call for market-rate rents in 30 percent of the housing units and the remaining units to be offered at lower rates.

“I think we achieved an agreement that represents a new day for development in Pittsburgh,” said Bill Bartlett, director of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Action United, an East Liberty nonprofit that advocates to improve housing and economic conditions in poor neighborhoods.

“It really holds the developer to acknowledge ... that there is a cost to the residents that they need to account for in their planning,” Bartlett said.

LG Realty Advisors, founded by real estate executive Lawrence Gumberg, plans to demolish the 312-unit Penn Plaza complex and replace it with market-rate housing and retail space.

Pittsburgh officials agreed to sell the company — at a yet-to-be-determined market rate — 2.28 acres including a small park and public green space for the development.

“This is an agreement that helps us reach two critical goals: providing comfort to Penn Plaza residents worried about finding new homes, and creating new commitments for all residents of East Liberty that they will be able to remain in the neighborhood and share in its growth,” Peduto said in a statement.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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