Category Archives: Housing

‘We have rights’: Renters protest ‘unlivable’ conditions at Aliquippa’s Towne Towers

Chrissy SuttlesBeaver County TimesView Comments

Tamika Lee with Beaver County United on Wednesday urged Towne Towers residents to start a claim with Neighborhood Legal Services and withhold their rent until property owners address 'unlivable conditions' at the 434 Franklin Ave. building.

ALIQUIPPA — Iris Jackson says she hasn’t had reliable heat in six days as frigid air continues to grip western Pennsylvania.

That’s par for the course at downtown Aliquippa’s Towne Towers, the longtime tenant said, as is rampant flooding, pests and mold. 

Jackson, using her walker for support, joined Beaver County United activists on Wednesday demanding property owners address “unlivable conditions” at the century-old 434 Franklin Ave. building.

Such conditions, Jackson said, include unpredictable heating in the winter, inadequate air conditioning in the summer, flooding due to unrepaired pipes, water-damaged ceilings, rodent infestations and broken elevators.

The rodent infestation has led to feces and urine in the halls and ceilings, residents reported at the rally. Mold and mildew are often spotted throughout the 60-unit building that houses a number of low-income renters, including older adults with disabilities. 

Iris Jackson, of Aliquippa, tells Aliquippa Code Enforcement Officer Jim Bologna about the “deplorable” state of Towne Towers at Wednesday’s rally.

Speaking outside of the Aliquippa City Building, Jackson said property managers are abusing their power and ignoring renters’ complaints.

“No one should have to go without heat in the middle of winter,” Jackson said. “As tenants, we have rights. Rats…I almost sat on one. I killed another in my kitchen; I have urine and feces coming down my ceiling from 2020 that’s still not fixed.”

Towne Towers is owned by Texas-based Eureka Multifamily Group, which also owns Valley Terrace Apartments in Aliquippa. The company on its website touts a range of amenities at both properties, including “individually controlled central air and heating.” Calls made to the building’s office and Eureka leadership were not immediately returned Wednesday. 

“I think tenants should withhold their rent until housing fixes their situation,” said Tamika Lee with Beaver County United, urging residents to start a claim with Neighborhood Legal Services. “If you are paying your rent, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to access your building. Forcing tenants to pay rent in unlivable conditions like this is violent, and management needs to be held accountable for neglecting their tenants while taking their money.”

Property owners and landlords are facing widespread scrutiny throughout the region for their sluggish response to heating interruptions as temperatures plummet. 

More:The Cornerstone of Beaver County offering aid across Beaver County

Towne Towers, at 434 Franklin Ave. in Aliquippa, is over 100 years old.

State laws governing landlords are sometimes hard to enforce. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the 1970s established the “implied warranty of habitability” that entitles renters to a safe, habitable home. This, in part, requires landlords to make non-cosmetic repairs that would otherwise put lives or welfare at risk, including lack of running water and inadequate heat in the winter. 

Landlords are also typically responsible for eliminating insect or rodent infestations and fixing substantial leaks. What’s considered “adequate” heat in a rental unit is often determined at the municipal level, according to the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.

The city “isn’t sitting idly by,” said Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker and Aliquippa Code Enforcement Officer Jim Bologna, but because the building is privately owned and receives Section 8 funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, their influence is “limited.”

“The city has been fighting,” Walker said. He and Bologna have met with HUD officials and property owners to work toward a solution, they said.

‘Unfortunately in Pittsburgh, We Have a Tale of Two Cities.’

Local filmmaker Chris Ivey stands at the entrance to East Liberty, now marked by new development. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL

Local filmmaker Chris Ivey stands at the entrance to East Liberty, now marked by new development

Pittsburgh is poised for growth for the first time in 60 years. Will the city’s African-American community grow with it?

By Ryan Deto

Pittsburgh City Paper

It used to be that community activists, politicians and developers would fight over allowing the gentrification of city neighborhoods. If you eliminated affordable housing and replaced it with housing that was not as affordable, most people agreed it was at least the start of gentrification.

These days, the battle is apparently a little more nuanced. 

On Nov. 5, for example, Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted: “So far Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood has avoided gentrification while reducing crime & improving investment,” with an accompanying study by local analytics firm Numeritics.

The study claims gentrification is “obviously not the case in East Liberty” because all new market-rate development happened on vacant land, and because neighborhood demographics from 2010 to 2013 remained the same.

However, Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey feels differently.

“The [report authors] certainly knew the story they wanted to tell and chose to ‘back up’ that story with the facts that happen to support it,” wrote Ivey, who documented the demolition of an East Liberty housing project in 2006, in an email to City Paper.

Ivey notes there has been a demographic shift in East Liberty since 2000, with the numbers of blacks declining three times as fast as whites, according to U.S. Census data. Census data also indicate that the northern tract of East Liberty lost hundreds of African-American residents since 2000, and that the median black income there went up 14 percent as a result — or, as Ivey puts it “poor blacks moved out.”

Another statistic foregone by the study was homeownership. According to statistics compiled by Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG), from 2011 to 2014, East Liberty saw 55 homes purchased by whites, while only three homes were bought by blacks.

So while some may argue whether what’s gone on in East Liberty and other city communities is gentrification, one fact is uncontroverted: African Americans are leaving some of their long-time Pittsburgh neighborhoods in droves because they can no longer afford to live there, and that urban flight could get worse before it gets better. 

With thousands of residential units slated for development, the city is seemingly poised for growth for the first time more than 50 years. But will Pittsburgh’s black population grow with it?

Historically, many African Americans came to Pittsburgh in the years between World War I and World War II. During this era of black migration, African Americans settled in the city neighborhoods of South Side, Garfield, East Liberty and Homewood, with the Hill District becoming the preeminent black neighborhood.

Continue reading ‘Unfortunately in Pittsburgh, We Have a Tale of Two Cities.’