The family of Jasmine Devine (third from left) including daughters (from left) Jah'Niya, Erionna and Nylah, plus Mary Hester (rear) of LifeVenture Real Estate Services, and Brettney Duck (far right) of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, walk through Enright Court on March 30, 2021. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

An East Liberty enclave faces change, but this time residents can set down roots

The Devines are only moving one block. But for Jasmine and her three daughters, the impending relocation within a little square called Enright Court is a big jump, and not just because they’ll have a fourth bedroom, plus a bigger yard. They’ll finally own a townhouse, rather than renting. With that, they’ll be gaining some control over their destinies in East Liberty, a neighborhood where demolitions and rising rents have torn many families out by the roots. “I’m building a legacy for them,” said Devine, 32, as she stood in her current driveway with her eldest daughter, Jah’Niya, 13.

Historic photo of Bethel AME Church, a large, Romanesque-style cathedral, amid demolition. A crane hovers over the building, and a few construction workers stand in front.

Pittsburgh’s oldest Black church was demolished as ‘blight’ in the 1950s Lower Hill. Today, members seek justice.

As conversations heat up over development plans for the Lower Hill District, one voice is drawing religious history into the spotlight. Bethel AME Church, founded in 1808, was once a thriving congregation and center of learning and social activism. As part of the Lower Hill redevelopment project of the 1950s, the City of Pittsburgh seized the church by eminent domain and demolished it, despite eminent domain laws excluding churches from their reach. 

Donald Megginson faced an eviction case after he fell behind on rent by $678, according to a court filing. He lives with his partner and two children, ages 8 and 2. He later caught up on the rent and the case was withdrawn. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Could long-term eviction reductions emerge from pandemic programs? A Pittsburgh-based foundation thinks so.

The human and economic costs of eviction far outweigh the price tag of helping people stay housed, according to a report released by The Pittsburgh Foundation*, which lays out a potential path to fewer landlord-tenant cases. The foundation's report comes at a time when federal and local curbs on evictions have pushed landlord filings against tenants well below pre-pandemic norms. Foundation officials contend that the heightened attention to the effects of eviction spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic creates an opportunity to change a system that upends the lives of thousands of Allegheny County families each year. "We have increased knowledge and awareness,'' said Michael Yonas, the foundation's vice president for public health, research and learning. “We’ve had political and legislative action that has helped to protect people during COVID." He added that the respite in filings creates a window of opportunity to improve the system before any return to normal levels of eviction filings.

A map showing the area in which October Development is seeking to take on conservatorship of 97 properties, taken from the company's petition filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

March 2021 Develop PGH Bulletins: ‘Hostile takeover’ or ‘best practice’? Attorney explains massive North Side conservatorship bid

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email with questions, tips or story ideas. 03/30/21: Attorney explains bid for conservatorship of 97 properties
A former City of Pittsburgh attorney who has filed an ambitious conservatorship petition said that it was driven by a developer’s desire to improve a neglected part of the North Side amid slow progress by a community group and government officials. Dan Friedson, who was an assistant city solicitor from 2014 through late 2019, filed a March 5 petition on behalf of East Allegheny-based October Development, seeking conservatorship over 97 properties in and around that neighborhood. Of the properties, 29 are owned by the city, two by the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA], eight by the Community Association of Spring Garden and East Deutschtown [CASGED] and the rest by an assortment of individuals and apparent businesses or nonprofit entities.

Pennsylvania Senator Katie Muth led a hearing, conducted virtually, on the state's conservatorship law on March 26, 2021. (Screenshot)

Conservatorship process has created ‘hotspots for abuse,’ experts tell Pennsylvania lawmakers

Pennsylvania’s anti-blight conservatorship law, which has become a tool of aggressive developers, should be amended to stop uses that some neighborhood development pros have characterized as abusive, according to testimony at a Friday hearing of Democratic state lawmakers. The General Assembly created the conservatorship process in 2008 as a way to allow for the court-monitored takeover of abandoned buildings by responsible owners. While conservatorship is technically stewardship of the property, it can lead to ownership. Nonprofit organizations like East Liberty Development Inc. have used the mechanism to fight blight. But the law “has also been criticized for taking away the due process of property owners, allowing land developers to obtain properties cheaply, making a profit and gentrifying neighborhoods in the process,” said Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester, Montgomery and Berks counties.

View of Downtown Pittsburgh and part of the site of the former Civic Arena, where the Penguins are leading a redevelopment effort, in February 2021. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

No handshake between the Penguins’ developers and a key Hill District group in the wake of a community showdown

A three-hour-plus community meeting involving the Penguins’ development team and the Hill District’s leading development group, held Monday, did not yield a breakthrough. A day after the first public discussion of a new term sheet offered by the Penguins’ chosen developer, Hill Community Development Corp. President and CEO Marimba Milliones questioned whether the offer amounts to much more than “business as usual.”

On the other side, developer Buccini/Pollin Group [BPG] co-principal Chris Buccini, whose firm is leading the billion-dollar rebuild of the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill, called Milliones’ public characterizations of its plans “incredibly disingenuous.”

Both sides agreed that they’d keep talking in advance of City Planning Commission consideration of BPG’s plans for a 26-story First National Bank [FNB] tower near the Hill’s border with Downtown. A commission vote could come next month. While the Hill CDC’s sign-off on the $230 million tower isn’t required, the commission typically weighs community group input heavily in its decisions

Milliones pledged to meet with the developer soon “to nail down what’s real and what’s theoretical” in the term sheet.