PITTSBURGH: Fire Displaces Residents in Path of Gentrification

Photo: The cause of the fire of the apartment complex in the Hill District is still unknown, but residents believe it was due to poor maintenance of the building.

By Darius Firoozi

The former residents of an apartment complex in the Hill District Area are struggling to find permanent housing after a large fire displaced them last month.

The slumlords at Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Company (AHRCO), who own the complex, have begun placing some of the residents back into their previous units despite there still being smoke damage. Other residents have been displaced to Whittaker, where the public bus lines have been cut. About 20 families are being housed at the nearby Double Tree hotel through donations. With the original media coverage dying down, the slumlords have dropped their daily stipend of $75 down to $45 each.

On August 17, AHRCO and the police claim that a 6-year-old set off the fire with matches. Residents have contested this claim, suspecting that the fire occurred due to the complex’s general state of disrepair. Residents say AHRCO has disinvested to make way for the current wave of gentrification moving outward from the University of Pittsburgh. This forced displacement of the majority black residents, accidental or not, aligns with the agenda of pushing black and working-class tenants out.

Mishelle McMillian, a resident of the complex, told Incendiary that she had helped the family of the child accused of starting the fire evacuate from their apartment, making her skeptical of the allegation. Residents believe that it was an electrical fire due to poor maintenance of the building, which explains why the fire spread so quickly.

McMillian also attested to the slum conditions of the apartment, which she had moved into nine years ago. “They treat us like mats they can wipe their foot on,” she said.

At this particular property, there was a large flood just last year in addition to multiple fires caused by faulty wiring. McMillian has been trying to organize the tenants, and now residents and community members are ready to take action against their slumlord after the fire: “We’re not coming to talk. We’re coming for action,” she said.