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.

Ebony Long, 35, of Perry North sits on the staircase of the rental house from which her landlord is trying to evict her. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

February 2021 Develop PGH Bulletins: Pittsburgh City Council votes to limit evictions, over landlord objections

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. 2/24/21: New eviction rules in Pittsburgh clear first vote
Pittsburgh City Council took an initial step toward adding a new set of hurdles to eviction but will likely spend the coming days weighing possible amendments to further protect tenants. Council voted, without dissent, for legislation that would:

Largely bar any landlord action from evicting tenants, within the city, who are behind on rent due to loss of employment or medical expenses
Bar landlords from terminating tenants’ leases or refusing to renew them
Carve out exceptions if a tenant is engaged in criminal activity or presents an “imminent threat” to the health or safety of other residents, or violates building codes or health ordinances
Fine landlords as much as $10,000 for violations
Expire either when the city lifts its current disaster declaration or council terminates the protections. The vote came after lengthy discussion about proposed amendments that could:

Explicitly extend protections to tenants who are defendants in eviction cases that are already pending in court
More clearly bar evictions except for “good cause,” which would not include expirations of leases
Give the city Commission on Human Relations a role in enforcement.

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

Crossing a line? A boundary change adds to tension between the Penguins and a key Hill District group

Update (3/1/2021): Mayor Bill Peduto's administration on Feb. 28 released to PublicSource a March 4, 2019 letter from the mayor to Gov. Tom Wolf, expressing support for a plan "to petition the Internal Revenue Service" to make the former Civic Arena site part of the Hill District Opportunity Zone. "The Lower Hill site is critically linked to the adjacent Opportunity Zone, and its inclusion within the Opportunity Zone is necessary for revitalization of the Greater Hill District," according to the letter. Federal Opportunity Zones include 8,760 census tracts chosen according to economic distress. The letter does not specifically ask for a change in census tract boundaries, which ultimately occurred in February 2021, and had the effect of making the arena site eligible for Opportunity Zone financing.

Affordable for-sale housing at the front door of the mayoral election

Housing prices nearly quadrupled in Fineview over the decade ending in 2018, and there’s no reason to believe that’s reversed since, according to neighborhood advocate Joanna Deming. The plus side: The increases are a symptom of the North Side neighborhood’s desirability, said Deming, executive director of both the Fineview Citizens Council and the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council. The minus: “So we’re seeing those rents go up! …We want to make sure we protect our residents first.”

Deming spoke inside a freshly renovated, affordable rental house on Fineview’s Lanark Street, where the citizens council’s plans call for some 20 new or remodeled houses, all priced for modest incomes, and mostly for sale, rather than for rent. She is cobbling together funding packages including money from the state, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Allegheny County and private sources.