Sunday, May 22, 2016

Updates on the Affordable Housing Discussions

There have been a number of updates on affordable housing in East Liberty and the East End lately. Please bear with me as I attempt to bring the blog up to speed.

Mellon's Orchard (URA redevelopment project)
If you haven't already heard, Trek Development was awarded the Mellon's Orchard South project for a new mixed-income housing development on the parking lot sites at the northwest corner of Penn Circle, aka the Farmers Market site. While we have not seen actual design proposals yet (which would still be very preliminary and subject to change), what we do know is that that the plans include:
  • 104 units of rental housing
  • 50% of these are slated for households at or below 60% Area Median Income (AMI)
  • The remaining 50% have been indicated as renting at 10-15% below "market rate".  Which means looking at rental rates of $800 - $1600 per month, rather than the $1,800 - 3,000 per month rates that are being seen elsewhere in East Liberty's new developments of late. This is good news as these rates will, hopefully, make them accessible to a wider range of residents on more moderate incomes, but who are getting by without subsidy.
  • The coverage also reports that there will be retail spaces that will target leasing to local and minority- and women-owned businesses. This is also good news as we are seeing rates in the commercial district skyrocket.
More coverage here via Tim Schooley of the Pittsburgh Business Times.

It should also be noted that LG Realty, the owners of Penn Plaza, did also submit for the Mellon's Orchard project and were not awarded. Given the structure of the Memorandum of Understanding from September 2015,  the fact that they were not awarded this project currently releases them from obligation to provide affordable housing on the Penn Plaza site. I note "currently" because there may still be tools that the City is developing for all developers on projects of a certain size that can be used to leverage affordable housing in the future (see Affordable Housing Task Recommendations below). Ryan Deto of the City Paper provides updated coverage of the Mellon's Orchard and its relationship to Penn Plaza and Enright Parklet here.

Affordable Housing Task Force - Initial Recommendations
The City's Affordable Housing Task Force presented its draft recommendations to City Council on April 28, 2016 at a post-agenda hearing. There was a lot of coverage of the event, including the Post Gazette and others. The Mayor's press release on the recommendations includes a short digestible summary as well. There was also an extremely well attended press conference and hearing right before the post-agenda. Not sure on the actual head count, but many passionate statements on the need for affordable housing.

This need is made even clearer via some of the ULI report (see below page 13) that point out that the East End (meaning East Liberty-Larimer-Homewood-East Hills-Lincoln-Lemington) median income is $23,000, meaning that "affordable" (at 30% of income) means a rent of $640 per month. By way of scale, the median for Pittsburgh as a whole is $41,000 with affordable housing clocking in at $1,100. And neither of these rates has been addressed in any new housing that we have seen in East Liberty in the past 4 years.

Admittedly, some of the recommendations hit that "well of COURSE!" note, but it is also incredibly important to have these written down, documented, and adopted in order to create a framework that can be used to shape policy. We are looking forward at how the actual implementation of the work moves forward, and how quickly some of it can happen. Housing policy is a massive ship, it is significantly underfunded, and, regardless of how we all know that it is well beyond time to do the right thing, it takes a lot of time, money, and effort to turn it around. Kudos to the City for finally taking it on and accepting the challenges it brings.

Urban Land Institute Study and Preliminary Report
East Liberty Development Inc (ELDI), working in concert with Councilman Burgess's office, contracted with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct a 5-day visioning exercise to evaluate the vision and strategies for preserving affordable housing in the East End.  The goal of this strategy is to preserve and provide a diverse range of high-quality affordable housing; protect existing low-income residents; leverage development and economic growth from public economic and infrastructure investments in East Liberty and Larimer; and to attract new growth from the region. 

ULI has completed their preliminary report, which you can download here. There is also a link to the powerpoint presentation and Councilman Burgess's office is working to get the televised broadcast of the report out up on-line via the City's cable channel. Stay tuned as more report outs come on-line.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Big Update.

The official statement:

Today, City Council voted to re-zone the Penn Plaza property and Enright Park to allow for the redevelopment that LG Realty has aggressively sought for its site. But, critically, the rezoning passed with concrete protections for the park and the neighborhood in the form of conditions that Mayor Bill Peduto, Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, and the City Planning department have assisted Council in attaching to the legislation. Enright Park's neighbors and advocates worked tirelessly with the Administration to shape these conditions, and the City worked against tremendous pressure to ensure that the rezoning legislation moved forward only with them in place.

While we normally could not support the re-zoning of either site without a Preliminary Land Development Plan from the developer, we nonetheless recognize the unique circumstances that brought us to this juncture today, as well as the tremendous amount of work that has gone into balancing complex competing interests on this very important site. Therefore, we - the Enright Park Neighborhood Association, Friendship Community Group, and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation - have placed our support behind the legislation. 

These legally binding conditions will ensure an appropriate and thorough public review process for the entire site, giving the larger community the input which its citizens deserve. We are grateful that these conditions guarantee that neither streets nor driveways will divide the park, and that most of what remains in the way of a mature tree canopy will be preserved. These conditions will allow the park to maintain its present size (although in a different configuration) and remain under public ownership, ensuring that future generations of residents will be able to enjoy it. We see opportunities ahead to hold meaningful discussions about how Enright Park may best serve this community for years to come.

In that vein, there is still much work to be done, and we're going to continue to pursue what we feel will be the most favorable set of outcomes for the neighborhood during the unfolding development at Penn Plaza. We express our utmost appreciation to the Mayor, to Chief of Staff Acklin, and to Planning Director Ray Gastil, along with those members of City Council who were receptive to our concerns. Most of all, we thank all those who came out in support of preserving this vital community amenity.

More to come. We are exhausted and elated.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Waiting Game. And Keeping Places.

We've been quiet for a few weeks. This doesn't mean that there are not many discussions happening.  Many people are talking about what is happening in the neighborhood, what the future could be for the western gateway of East Liberty (e.g. the intersection of Penn and Negley), and what a public park in this location SHOULD be. The rezoning has been open, tabled, re-opened, and tabled again at City Council as conversations and negotiations go forward.

We greatly appreciate the time that the Mayor's Office, City Council, and the Planning Department have put into this process, both from the perspective of seeking solutions for the affordable housing crisis triggered by the Penn Plaza evictions, and for the community park that serves residents from all over the neighborhood.

And yes, as a reminder to the developers out there, there is a public park and it is named Enright. And many people from all walks of life use it on a daily basis. So if we seem irked when you propose to turn it into a retail and restaurant oriented "festival street", it's because we are irked. Beyond irked. And we might even occasionally fly off the handle. Because, really, rather than spending another 20 - 40 hours this week dealing with the mess you are making in our neighborhood, we'd prefer to be hanging out with our kids, our friends, our families, and our neighbors in the park.

One of the things that we are trying to make people understand is there IS a context and a community here, even after half of the residents have been evicted.* In fact, their community is still here, albeit suffering from their absence.

Developers and their consultants may not like or appreciate what they see, or appreciate how it works, but there is a PLACE here in Enright Park, and throughout East Liberty. Yes, it may be scraggly around the edges, in need of some elbow grease and some investment, but to see our community repeatedly treated as if it is a blank slate is an effort to erase the people who have been here and continue to be here. It's quite frankly offensive.

There is much much talk from the developers' architects about how they excel at placemaking, but we have yet to hear from anyone on their side of the table about how they excel at placekeeping, including the acknowledgement of the existing community, our collective histories, and the politics of spatial design as they are playing out on center stage in East Liberty these days, whether you choose to call it revitalization or gentrification.

It's messy stuff, yes, and we all play a role in it it, like it or not.

But being involved in the conversation, even when it gets uncomfortable, is important to building community strength and resilience. We may have checked off many of the goals in our community plans, but it's clear that we are missing something that can't be quantified - the sense of place, the sense of belonging, the sense of people. How do we get there? Can we correct the course of the neighborhood or is it an unstoppable trajectory?

It's messy. But East Liberty is up for it.

I'll leave it with a quote from the fantastic John Brewer, taken from an excellent recent article in Belt Magazine:

“Old East Liberty people like myself, we see the progress happening and the development, and all of that is good,” John Brewer says. “But there are questions about inclusion. Who is all that for? Will we be included in the final plans?”

Will you be here too?

*Penn Plaza residents make (or made) up roughly half of the census tract that comprises the Enright Park area of East Liberty. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

An Update (from the land of never ending updates)

Originally published on the Save Enright Parklet page on Facebook by Angelique Bamberg:

Our campaign to Save Enright Park (because it really is a true park, despite its official moniker as "parklet") has come a long way since September. Above all, we have seen and heard the City acknowledge the deep meaning and importance of this urban oasis to our community. That culminated in the Mayor's press release after the March 22 City Council hearing declaring that Enright would remain a public park and the Penn Plaza developers would be required to participate in "a detailed public process" to define its future. THANK YOU to all who came out and made yourselves heard on that day! Your eloquence no doubt played a part in this heartening turn of events.

However, much as we would have liked to declare a victory on March 22, the saga continues. No formal, written agreement has followed from the Mayor's statement, and, as you may know, Councilman Burgess spoke strongly in favor of the rezoning at Council, despite the unanimous opposition of his constituents at the hearing. We have now learned that project proponents intend to force a vote on the rezoning as soon as possible; the final vote could happen this coming Tuesday, the 12th.

Despite the Mayor’s best intentions, we believe that this rezoning puts the park in grave danger, as it is clear that the developer has every intention of using current park land for his buildings. We are doing everything we can to communicate the urgency of the situation to every Council member, and we continue to be in communication with the Mayor’s office. The process continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, with the developers applying all the pressure they can bring to bear.

We have neither their millions nor their connections, but we do have you on our side. If we can, we ask you once again to rally yourselves and reach out to your Council member and tell him or her that this process isn’t acceptable in East Liberty, and it’s not acceptable anywhere in the city.

said many times, but needs to be said again: why we do what we do...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Just a Reminder...

So while we are all feeling jubilant about the press release and public statement issued by the Mayor last week on the park, please remember that there is NOT an official agreement or memorandum of understanding with the community that memorializes the intention to not sell or redevelop the park.

Today, surveyors, hired by LG Realty, were in the park surveying to create a base drawing for future plans. Plans that the community is not yet privy to.

Surveyors doing their job in the park.

Yes, this is information that we all need for developing a vision for the park. However, we also need YOUR VOICE to tell the Mayor and City Council that the park must remain public, and that it should NOT be rezoned without a master plan in place that defines a vision for these critical properties.

Please write and call your council people and the Mayor's Office to let them know that public parks are not here for the whims of private developers, and that healthy vibrant communities preserve their public spaces for ALL residents.

Thank you.

P.S. A few great new pieces on Penn Plaza and Enright Park, as well as affordable housing in Pittsburgh:

Check out this piece in the City Paper by Ryan Deto, which raises the question we have all been asking: how long has LG Realty been planning to redevelop Penn Plaza and why have they been so elusive in letting the community know?

And Citizen Vrabelman begins to demystify "affordable housing" and what it really means in this post on Downstream.

And here is a new piece in the Post-Gazette about how transportation (or rather lack of it) adds to the costs, making even affordable housing unaffordable.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

And then this happened.

About 1-1/2 hours after coming out of an afternoon spent in Council chambers, a press release buzzed into my phone from the Mayor's Office.

City Requires Enright Park To Stay Public
 East Liberty park will remain publicly-owned and subject to further public processes
PITTSBURGH, PA (March 22, 2016) The City of Pittsburgh directed the developers of Penn Plaza today to work with the Department of City Planning to work on agreements to protect Enright Park in East Liberty.

Under the City’s directions the park will remain publicly-owned rather than transferred to Pennley Park South, the developers of the adjacent site. The developers have agreed to pay for improvements to the park, and all improvements would be subject to a public process.

Any proposed changes to the configuration of the park would only come after a detailed public process as well, led by the Department of City Planning.   

"There is an opportunity for a better park and a better project,” Planning Director Ray Gastil said.

All the terms will be included in a written agreement between the City and Pennley Park South defining the process related to the park going forward. The proposed terms were discussed with the developer and several members of the community prior to today’s zoning hearing before City Council.

“At the end of this process, residents are going to have an Enright Park that is better than what is there presently,” said Kevin Acklin, chief-of-staff to Mayor William Peduto. “Just as we took care of the residents at Penn Plaza, we’ll take care of the park.”

Enright Park became part of the discussions with the developer related to City efforts to find housing for more than 200 Penn Plaza residents who faced evictions last summer to make way for the redevelopment of the area.

Two buildings at the Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty are set to be demolished by Pennley Park South Inc. this year and next. Through an agreement with Mayor William Peduto, state Rep. Ed Gainey, City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess and other stakeholders, the owners agreed to offer relocation assistance to residents, and agreed to phase the development to allow residents more time to live in their apartments.

Through joint efforts among the City, the developer, the Penn Plaza tenant council and Neighborhood Allies, new homes have been found for all the residents in the first building at Penn Plaza. The next round of relocations will take place early next year.

This wasn't completely surprising - there was clear indication at the hearing from the Planning Director that the process to date had not addressed the community's concerns, and we had been told that the developers had been informed that the park would not be sold. And yes, we were the community members with whom "the proposed terms" had been discussed prior to the hearing. We just didn't realize at the time when or how they would formalized.

This is great news. This is fantastic news. THIS IS NOT THE END.

Someone asked yesterday if we felt that this was a victory. 

It is not a victory, as the end goal is not merely to preserve the park. But it is certainly a good step in the right direction. We remain gravely concerned about the eroding livability of East Liberty, via the loss of affordable housing and the displacement of residents (both physically and socially) who are being pushed further to the margins of our city. Preserving Enright Parklet as a public park and community hub is only one win in a much greater struggle to create a truly livable city for everyone.

We are looking forward to many productive discussions and dialogues. Please stay tuned. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Report from City Council Hearing

First, a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who reached out, sent letters, came to the hearing, spoke publicly, made your voices heard. It is amazing to feel part of a community that seeks to support the good and the just and the very best in communities.

About 20 people provided testimony at Council today, and NOT ONE of them spoke in support of the actual rezoning of the sites. Recurring themes included:
  • The need and desire for a housing strategy that will address both short term emergencies and a long-term strategy and ensure equitable access to transit, community services, and economic opportunities;
  • The need for public park spaces equivalent to (or greater than) the existing as a common ground and communal gathering place;
  • The need for an inclusive and comprehensive planning process that takes the deliberate time needed to develop such a vision.
It is clear that there is a true need for a collective and collaborative vision for these important gateway properties in East Liberty, one which supports affordable and market rate housing, neighborhood serving retail development that enhances a vision of community entrepreneurship, and public parks that serve as our collective living rooms and front porches.

After the hearing, we were pleased and surprised to read a public statement from the Mayor's Office that the City Requires Enright Park to Remain Public. This is an enormous step forward. We are cautiously optimistic that there can be a collaborative solution, but we are holding our breath a bit to see the proposed process for moving forward.

East Liberty is in the midst of a dramatic reinvention - we only have the blink of an eye to catch the reigns. Many feel that is is already too late, but others who call this community home hope that it is not too late to ensure equitable development and invest in our local talents and creativity to establish a vision for the future.

Please continue to make our voices heard by reaching out to members of Council and the Mayor's Office to let them know that we will be heard, and that we will be part of the future of this community. 

We will be ramping up further in the next few weeks with our messages and coordination. We are still all volunteer, so if you are interested in helping to spread the word and participate, please let us know. You can reach us at

We are also opening a press room for communications. You will be able to find press releases and media alerts about planning and development activities in East Liberty and throughout the East End here. Please stay tuned and stay informed.

And thank you. Thank you for caring about this community, and for the fate of your neighbors. If the past six months has taught us anything, it is that our community will always sustain us.