Militant Journalism

Housing crisis: Pittsburgh politicians’ patchwork solutions fall short

Photo: Pittsburgh-area Cancel the Rents protest

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium “pausing” evictions, Pennsylvania landlords are abusing loopholes to kick people out of their homes. This has caused hundreds of tenants to be evicted in just the last few months, with thousands more facing impending eviction.

A Westmoreland County tenant who spent years caring for his father at a Voyager Estates mobile home was recently evicted. After his father died, he took over the house, but with lack of employment during the pandemic he simply couldn’t pay the rent. “With this COVID going on there’s a lack of jobs and I got backed up on my rent,” the Westmoreland local told Liberation News. He expresses a problem millions of the already poor and oppressed are struggling with right now. Despite local politicians’ claims that moratoriums allow tenants “more time to recover,” they actually have the opposite effect, allowing rent debt to landlords to pile up and become impossible to pay.

In October, the owner of Voyager Estates mobile home park filed eviction papers against the tenant saying he owed more than $4,700 in rent. In November, the judge approved the eviction. On Dec. 1, the tenant signed a CDC declaration form seeking to delay eviction and gave it to his landlord. The CDC declaration form is quite limited in terms of offering protection, however. If the paperwork isn’t properly filled out it can lead to prosecutions for perjury against the tenant, and small mistakes can lead to eviction. The tenant gave the form to his landlord, but not the courts. Eight days later police showed up at his door to remove him from his home.

Despite the inadequacies of moratoriums, it is the favorite buzzword of local politicians posturing as defenders of tenants rights. If they really cared to stop evictions, they would cancel the rents and mortgages.

Pittsburgh area politicians unwilling to take dramatic, necessary action

In Allegheny County alone, 1,138 eviction cases have been filed since Nov. 1, 2020. In 213 cases, non-compliant judges ruled in favor of evicting tenants. And in 135 of those cases tenants were forced out of their homes oftentimes by armed police. Anne Wright, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who is tracking evictions in the Pittsburgh area, said that most tenants have nowhere to go because of a lack of affordable housing. “The chances of them being able to find a new place to actually go to now are worse than ever. There just isn’t anywhere to put them,” she told a local news station. Meanwhile, thousands of area tenants are waiting to see if they will be evicted. In Allegheny County, there are 1,379 pending eviction cases.

Related to this, homelessness has been noticeably on the rise in Pittsburgh, even before the pandemic. In addition to the fact that 13 percent of existing homes are vacant, there are hundreds of homes owned by exploitive Airbnb hosts and thousands of houses for sale. What is stopping these homes from being made available to people facing homelessness is the capitalist profit motive.

Instead of taking serious measures to provide housing to the homeless, the “progressive” mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto is increasing police presence downtown, citing panhandling and theft as a concern. While Peduto hypocritically said that more policing wasn’t the solution, his actions say otherwise, as he has increased the city police operating budget to $564 million, up $77 million in the five years since he assumed office.

The conditions of homelessness are increasingly more dangerous with climate change causing more severe winter storms that cause hundreds of people to freeze to death every year. When many are being told to stay inside for their own safety, the homeless have no choice. This makes it clear that housing should be treated as a fundamental right.

We could house the hundreds, if not thousands, of Pittsburgh’s homeless overnight in Airbnbs, hotels and vacant houses. We need housing for all, not just more shelters without addressing the root cause of poverty. We could prevent further evictions right now with the cancellation of rents. This is why members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Western PA Unemployed Council are organizing monthly “cancel the rents” car caravans and are building a neighborhood solidarity network to continue reminding local politicians of the people’s needs, and remind local tenants facing evictions that they aren’t alone.

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