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Residents being ousted from East Liberty apartments struggle to find affordable housing

| Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, 11:25 p.m.

More than 30 remaining residents who must move out of a rent-controlled apartment building in East Liberty by Feb. 28 still are looking for affordable housing, officials said Tuesday.

Zak Thomas of Neighborhood Allies, which is under a $300,000 contract with the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority to manage the relocation, said 82 people have found new apartments so far, but many of them were forced to leave the neighborhood.

“There's not enough housing in East Liberty to absorb everybody by the end of February,” said Thomas, senior program officer for affordable housing and lending. “The first priority of a lot of people is to remain in East Liberty, and we're working really hard to figure out a way to make that happen for them.”

Building owner Pennley Park South, a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., in July sent 90-day eviction notices to more than 200 residents of Penn Plaza Apartments on Penn Avenue. The company is planning to redevelop the two-building complex as a mix of residential and retail space.

Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents the building owners, couldn't be reached.

Pennley Park South agreed after negotiating with Mayor Bill Peduto's office to delay and complete the project in phases, and to subsidize the relocation of residents.

“The mayor is committed to making sure that everyone at Penn Plaza will be placed and, under the terms of our agreement, we expect that the developer and stakeholder community will collaborate to make sure nobody falls through the cracks,” Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said.

Residents of 5704 Penn Ave. have until Feb. 28 to move and will receive $1,600 per apartment. Those living in 5600 Penn Ave. can stay until March 31 and will receive $800 per unit. Residents forced to move from East Liberty will have first priority for affordable apartments being planned.

Pittsburgh agreed to consider selling a neighboring public green space known as Enright Parklet to the developer as part of the deal, drawing community criticism. A development plan requires the company to create at least an equal amount of public space on the grounds and conduct in-depth talks with residents over its use.

City council on Tuesday introduced legislation that would change the zoning of the 2.2-acre park to permit mixed-use development.

“What we don't want to see is a privately owned open space,” said Sallyann Kluz, an East Liberty resident and regular user of the park. “It sounds like there will be change, but I'm hoping it will improve the park.”

Gail Williams, president of Penn Plaza's tenant council, who has to be out of her place by next month, said it's nearly impossible to find affordable housing in the neighborhood, which is experiencing a boom in construction of high-end rentals and condominiums.

Williams said she's on two waiting lists for buildings in East Liberty and one complex in Hazelwood. In the interim, she said, she'll move into the other building.

“It's going good for some people,” she said. “Other people are finding it hard to find a place because of how much the rent is, and it's not just low- and moderate-income people. People paying market rate (rents), they cannot find a decent place in East Liberty to live, and people from the outside are moving in. I see an injustice in that.”

LG Realty has agreed to offer unoccupied apartments in the 5600 building to residents who must leave by February, but Thomas has yet to hear how many will be available. He said there are enough places in other communities for the 33 remaining residents.

“It's their decision on where they want to go,” he said. “We're trying to give them as many options to choose from and help them however we can to facilitate that move.”

Bob Bauder is Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or

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