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Protesters for affordable housing march in Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, 1:06 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Alethea Sims, 60, of East Liberty speaks to the crowd on Penn Avenue, downtown, in an attempt to raise awareness about affordable housing shortages, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jala Rucker, 35, of Manchester (middle) marches down Penn Avenue, downtown, in an attempt to raise awareness about affordable housing shortages, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Ronell Guy, 62, the Executive Director of the North Side Coalition for Fair Housing sits in the street with demonstrators at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Sixth Street attempting to raise awareness about affordable housing shortages, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Valerie Lauw, 55, of Northview Heights and president of Northview Heights Citizens Council chants with protesters on Penn Avenue, downtown, in an attempt to raise awareness about affordable housing shortages, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Karen Gilliam, 67, of Homewood and member of the Pittsburgh Tenets Union chants with protesters on Penn Avenue, downtown, in an attempt to raise awareness about affordable housing shortages, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.

Protesters blocked Downtown traffic during Tuesday's lunch hour as they called for more affordable housing in Pittsburgh.

Marchers carried signs emblazoned with slogans such as "evict slumlords, not people" and "housing is a human right" after a rally at Katz Plaza. They moved down Penn Avenue to Sixth Street then to Market Square.

Among them was Randall Taylor, 50, who said he was forced from a rent-controlled East Liberty apartment last February along with dozens of other residents to make way for a Whole Foods grocery store development. He said gentrification is "running wild."

"The idea of affordable housing is real for people," he said. "You can be sitting at home one day and get a letter which says 'get the hell out in 90 days,'" he said.

Speakers along the march called for more quality, affordable homes in the city; low-income homeownership subsidies; low-income units included in all new developments; and the right for tenants to organize and collectively bargain with landlords without fear of discrimination.

At the corner of Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue, police officers told the protesters they were breaking the law and needed to move from the street to the sidewalk. Motorists honked their horns. Several protesters sat down while the rally briefly intensified before organizers — warning arrests were imminent — led marchers toward Market Square.

The march came a day before a scheduled City Council hearing on an affordable housing fund proposal at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District has proposed legislation based on input from Mayor Bill Peduto's Affordable Housing Task Force that would create a "Housing Opportunity Fund" to help build, renovate and subsidize housing for families of four earning less than $40,000 per year. The legislation requires a $10 million a year.

Lavelle previously said that would help solve Pittsburgh's need for 17,000 affordable houses and apartments. He said it's necessary because of evaporating federal and state housing subsidies. Affordable housing is defined as housing that requires less than one-third of a family's annual income.

Median gross monthly rents in Pittsburgh increased from $500 in 2000 to $794 in 2014, and about one third of Pittsburgh's 307,000 residents spend more than 30 percent of annual income on housing, according to a study commissioned by the housing task force.

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