TENANT’S VOICE: ‘URBAN RENEWAL TO URBAN REMOVAL’ in Pittsburgh

Tenants at a senior residence complex in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, which is owned by the Allegheny Union Baptist Association (AUBA) and managed by the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (AHRCO), are well aware of the importance of organizing with fellow tenants and activists in order to have their demands met. Members of UNDM sat down with two tenants who both have lived at the property for over five years and are working hard to organize their neighbors to fight for better living conditions.

When tenants complained individually about the slum conditions and lack of accessibility to Rev. Cook (AUBA) or Layla Williams (AHRCO), nothing was addressed. The needs of tenants were ignored until the “tenants…became collective, versus individual, with the support of [the UNDM]. It wasn’t until we did it collectively that anything was started”, said tenant Charlene. When tenants held meetings and became united, they were able put pressure on Rev. Cook and AHRCO. Through this, they achieved several important demands, like a lock box so first responders can access the building, improved trash pickup to address pest issues, and a vital handrail replacement.

“They pacify you [with these repairs]”, Charlene said.

AHRCO even sent a letter out to tenants openly trying to dissuade them from organizing. After giving a list of some of the above repairs that they were willing to concede to, they used fear tactics regarding Coronavirus to encourage tenants to contact Layla Williams individually rather than together.

“It is unsafe and unnecessary to invite outsiders to these meetings”, the letter states, in an attempt to sever ties between the tenants and the UNDM.

Of course, tenants will not be dissuaded so easily! These tenants especially understand the importance of organizing to defend their housing and their neighborhood in the Hill District, a historically Black neighborhood that has been heavily targeted with displacement.

“The Hill District is the center of everything…Over 70% of the properties in the Hill are vacant and then we have a housing shortage”, tenant Annie explained.

This is due to decades of concentrated efforts to displace working class Black people from the Hill in order to gentrify it. “Displacing people is nothing new. Gentrification is systematic…systematic to the city, the state, and government,” says Charlene. Annie described the way this process unfolded in the Hill as “urban renewal to urban removal”.

Today, these affordable housing complexes, many owned or managed by AHRCO, are some of the last strongholds of working class tenants in the Hill. Annie explained the role of affordable housing in the ruling class’ control of the working class, saying “they know where you are, so they know how to control you…they have everything they need to keep you contained…”

We understand that until we have collective working class control of housing, we can only achieve so much in the way of safe, healthy and affordable housing. That is why we must fight not just to achieve our demands, but to organize our neighborhoods to have the ability to secure and administer their own needs!