Mold. Holes in the ceiling. The landlord won’t do anything.
Rents are increasing. The neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. New upscale apartment buildings are unaffordable.
These were the sentiments echoed throughout downtown Pittsburgh last Tuesday as dozens of Pittsburgh residents assembled to advocate for quality, affordable housing in the city.
The Housing is a Human Right Rally was part of a national day of action in which organizations across the country gathered to make four demands: a national rent freeze, a freeze on all unjust evictions, community control over land and housing, and the right for all tenants to organize and bargain collectively with landlords.
In Pittsburgh, the action marked a collaboration between the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, Homes for All Pittsburgh, the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, the Hill District Consensus Group and Pittsburghers for Public Transit.
The rally proceeded through Downtown, stopping for residents and advocates to take the mic and share their housing experiences. Cost of living, gentrification, and displacement were among central themes as participants lamented the shortage of affordable units and voiced fears about being pushed out of their city neighborhoods to suburbs.
On the Facebook page for the event, the asks to the city’s Affordable Housing Taskforce include quality homes, inclusionary zoning, low-income home ownership subsidies and renter protections.
Participants came equipped with a sense of both agency and urgency — calling for city stakeholders to grant low-income residents a greater say in the development and decision-making processes that most affect them.
“Pittsburgh needs to be a place where everybody can live…” said Ronnell Guy, the executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. “We got a right to this city.”
Jala Rucker, vice president of the Manchester Hope VI Tenant Council, addresses the rally crowd on Sept. 20 outside the Katz Plaza about housing struggles she and her family have faced. After the rally, she told PublicSource, “I have a ceiling leak; two of my windows have fallen in before. My daughter’s bedroom door fell off the hinges onto her. These are safety and health issues. I have chipped paint everywhere. I’ve experienced bed bugs.”
Her property management company, she said, is responsible for paying the trash bill. When they don’t pay, the trash isn’t picked up and rodents are everywhere. “Regardless of if it’s low income or not, regardless of what my rent is, I still should have a quality home and live in a safe environment, me and my children.”
Aleathea Simms of the Coalition for Residents of East Liberty concludes her speech by leading the crowd in a chant. Moments before, she said, “I am tired of seeing all these brand new wonderful apartments being built next door to me that I can’t afford. … I’m so tired of everyone making plans for our community and don’t ask us anything.
“There are no people that can manage money better than the ones who don’t have a lot of it. I mean we know how to pinch pennies ‘til Lincoln hollers… I’m tired of everybody thinking just because I’m poor, I’m stupid. I’m not. I’m tired.”
“I’m telling you, the conditions of our existing housing stock, are deplorable,” said Guy of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. “And people don’t have nowhere to go. They can’t even leave the falling ceiling or the mold in their bathroom because there’s nowhere else to go.
“Slumlords have neglected their responsibility to care for our existing housing stock, and the city is doing nothing to enforce it… so we’re here to say we’re not gonna live like this no more. You’re gonna fix our houses, so we can care for our children in a healthy situation.”
Rally participants chant, “Housing is a human right, together we can win this fight!” in a procession down Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.
Myrtle Stern of East Liberty describes the multiple moves she and her neighbors have made from Auburn Towers on Larimer Avenue to different residences throughout East Liberty. “We have to fight to keep what’s ours now,” she said at the intersection of Sixth and Penn avenues.
The rally participants continue down the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Market Street.
As police pull up to Liberty Avenue and Market Street and ask protestors to move, several of them sit in the middle of the intersection and chant, “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
City resident Cynthia Emanuel, who has a disability, said her current living situation is working out but that she fears her days are numbered. “A lot of the people on my street, on the opposite side, they all moved out in one weekend because there’s mice over there. And the landlord’s not doing anything… They’ll come and collect your money, but they’re not doing anything for the house and that’s not right.”
“Don’t judge a person if they have a Section 8 voucher,” said rally participant Lisa Gonzalez. “If there was enough affordable quality housing, reliable public transportation, they might not need that voucher… There needs to be enough low income housing for tenants so they will not be forced out of the city like I was.”
Rally participants gather in Market Square as Carl Redwood, the board chair of the Hill District Consensus Group, addresses the crowd.
“I was displaced through mindless development and became more educated about this issue of affordable housing and, again, gentrification and out-of-control development,” said Randall Taylor of ACTION United.
“We gotta continue to raise the issue, gotta continue to connect people that are being adversely affected. That’s business owners, homeowners, anybody who’s renting in a particular area needs to know they’re in danger. Any moment, you can receive that letter in the mail saying you have to leave.”