PITTSBURGH: Tenants Rally in Protest of Apartment Fire Displacement

Photo: Activists and tenants of AHRCO properties staged a rally outside the management office in response to poor living conditions and the company’s lack of action in the wake of a fire at the complex which threatens to displace 70 residents from the neighborhood

By Darius Firoozi

On Friday, October 4, Tenants of the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (AHRCO) and their supporters attended a rally put on by revolutionary organization Serve the People – Pittsburgh (STP-PGH) and the Deraud St. Tenant Council.

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Tenants posted fliers across the building in response to AHRCO avoiding tenants

Almost two months after a fire that burned down the AHRCO apartment building and displaced 70 residents in the historically Black Hill District of Pittsburgh, residents with the same leasing company are still facing life-threatening health concerns. Leading up to the rally, activists with STP-PGH and Deraud St. Tenant Council talked to tenants about the deplorable conditions they faced. The day of the rally, tenants, supporters, and activists met outside the leasing office of AHRCO an hour before the leasing office closed to make their demands heard.

Upon realizing the doors to the building were locked and the AHRCO management left early to avoid their tenants, the rally turned to posting flyers across the building and distributing them to those passing by.

Several activists and supporters gave speeches during the rally, discussing the slum conditions suffered by the AHRCO residents that STP-PGH and the Tenant Council uncovered during weeks of investigation leading up to the rally, including mold and infestations. Tenants also set their demands, primarily livable housing conditions in the Hill District as well as compensation for health issues and damaged or stolen personal property as a result of the fire.

A resident of the complex affected by the fire and president of the Deraud St. Tenant Council, Mishelle McMillian, told Incendiary that she was only allowed to go back into her apartment with a representative of AHRCO, and when she did, she had to negotiate over what she could take out.

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AHRCO tenant Mischelle Mcmillan raises her voice against slumlords in the Hill District

Another resident, Devin McClain, was only given the offer to relocate to the city of Whittaker by the property owners. This is far from where he had lived in the Hill District, where he was able to walk to his job. Being displaced to Whittaker would mean having to travel across the city just to get to work. Two suspected plainclothes police tried to prevent Devin from entering the building, eventually calling additional squad cars to the scene.

The residents at the neighboring AHRCO buildings not directly affected by the fire are faring much worse as they were never given the opportunity to leave. One of the residents, Marianne Williams, has been trying to get out of the slums of AHRCO for several years now. Her apartment, like others in the building, is affected by mold, moisture, rats, cats, and cockroaches. It is also hardly accessible to her, since she has to climb several steps just to get to her apartment despite being blind. She told Incendiary, “The whole six years that I lived here, [AHRCO] never came through.”

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Garfield tenant Helen Hobdi with Incendiary article about the AHRCO fire

Helen Hobdi, a supporter of STP-PGH who has been struggling against her own slumlord in the nearby Garfield area, came out to the rally in support of the demands of the AHRCO tenants. She gave a speech about her own slumlord, Martha Mbandi, who has been illegally harassing her over text to leave her rental house for the past several weeks.

When an attendee of the rally questioned STP-PGH’s slogan of “Combat and Resist,” Hobdi was quick to defend it, saying, “I love Combat and Resist. That’s exactly what we’re doing, we’re combatting slumlords and resisting displacement!”

Many of the tenants in attendance expressed that they look forward to more actions against AHRCO and slumlords in general. Williams stressed the importance of “follow[ing] this to the end.” Several of the tenants also cited the importance of tenants with different slumlords banding together to fight them collectively.

start of rally
Tenants and activists rally against displacement and slumlords

The displacement of these nearly 70 families from the Hill District is only another step in the decades-long process of destroying this historically black community and making way for the neighboring University of Pittsburgh.

These problems are not unique to the tenants of AHRCO. Similar slum conditions have been reported in other areas of the city, such as North Braddock, where several tenants have complained of mold in their apartments and being ignored by their slumlord. STP-PGH has been talking with tenants across the city and has brought them together to discuss how to unite tenants against slumlords. As conditions worsen and families are displaced, more and more tenants in Pittsburgh are calling for united action against slumlords.