PITTSBURGH: Slumlords and Residents Clash Over Housing Conditions in Homewood

Photo: Homewood row houses owned by the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (AHRCO) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

By Samantha Murray

Over the past several months, at least six tenants of the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (AHRCO) in the Black working-class neighborhood of Homewood have come forward reporting neglected repairs and harassment from AHRCO staff.  Anger has boiled over into actions taken at the leasing office, including large pieces of heating ducts to symbolize the failure to fix recurring issues, an action claimed by the “Homewood Anti-Slumlord Brigade.”

AHRCO tenants have been complaining about poor conditions for years now, including leaky or collapsed ceilings and floors, floods, mold, pest infestations, broken appliances, and heat outages, however AHRCO has done little-to-nothing to respond to these residents’ complaints.

One young mother and AHRCO tenant told Incendiary that her heat had been out for a week and a half before it was finally fixed in late November, when temperatures bordered on freezing. AHRCO had also rented the apartment to her with full knowledge of mold in the kitchen caused by a leak in the roof, however repairmen tried to minimize the damage by claiming it was “good mold” and painting over it—a common method AHRCO uses to deal with these issues.

AHRCO tenants have also faced abuse from staff, with Homewood property manager and Vice President of AHRCO Donna Allen reportedly entering homes unannounced, harassing and disrespecting tenants, and at least one reported instance of her mocking a tenant’s disabilities.

Allen has faced direct action for her poor treatment of tenants, and earlier this month large pieces of broken heating and insulation ducts were left at the door of the leasing office where she works, with a message directly pasted onto the metal, as well as a hammer and sickle painted onto the surface. The message read: “Donna Allen & AHRCO, fix our heat! Tenants demand new furnaces in every AHRCO unit immediately!” A group calling itself “Homewood Anti-Slumlord Brigade” signed the message.

Message left for Donna Allen outside her office
“Donna Allen & AHRCO, fix our heat! Tenants demand new furnaces in every AHRCO unit immediately! – Homewood Anti-Slumlord Brigade”

In gentrifying neighborhoods, slumlords like AHRCO follow a policy of disinvestment, where they let properties fall into disrepair while leeching rent off tenants as the property value of the land they sit on skyrockets.

To gentrify Homewood, politicians and developers have also worked hand-in-hand through backdoor deals to buy up property and redevelop it. Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District, another historically Black working-class neighborhood, gave leftover money meant for his district to Councilman Ricky Burgess in Homewood to form a land bank. The land bank’s role is to centralize the ownership and sale of blighted property into their hands, allowing them to gentrify the area more efficiently. They referred to this deal as a “gentleman’s agreement,” admitting that it was not on the books.

These two men along with developer Keith B. Key, are responsible for a row of new upscale townhouses being built on Hamilton Avenue, a main street that runs through Homewood, just one of the clear signs of encroaching gentrification.

Due to of this gentrification, conditions in Homewood AHRCO units will continue to worsen until all the tenants are driven out, so that the slumlords can sell their land for a high price to gentrifiers. The community, particularly tenants, must unite and organize to force slumlords to provide livable conditions through direct confrontation while combating gentrifiers to make it too costly for them to displace the community.