• Rent Strike 2020

RENT STRIKE IN ACTION: Stop the station, fund affordable housing in Pittsburgh!

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

In light of the looming eviction crisis and the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd movement, activists in Pittsburgh are standing up to oppose the city’s plans to redevelop an abandoned police station in East Liberty. The explosion of protests across the country have made clear the role of police in upholding systemic racism - in addition to enforcing the will of landlords and developers through evictions. When cities are facing unprecedented budget crises, public funds must be allocated to housing, schools, and needed social services, not the racist cops!

Dakota and Zach - members of Pittsburgh Socialist Alternative - share with Rent Strike 2020 the following report on the campaign to Stop the Station, and argue that community organizing in our cities to #DefundThePolice and to stop gentrification will be a key part of building a strong renter fightback. It is crucial that we link the organizing in our buildings and in tenants unions with broader struggles in our cities to build a united movement for housing justice!

On July 13, hundreds of activists, socialists, and community residents gathered to protest the proposed re-occupation of the Zone 5 police station in Pittsburgh's rapidly-gentrifying East Liberty neighborhood. In the wake of the historic Black Lives Matter protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — which shut down countless cities around the world, including Pittsburgh — the city establishment, led by Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, has sought to quietly pass a measure to fund the redevelopment and re-occupation of East Liberty's abandoned Zone 5 police station.

In recent years this neighborhood has been gutted by developers and much of its historically Black and working class population displaced in favor of wealthy tech interests like Google. This comes as 40 million people across the country face the likelihood of eviction in coming months, as state eviction moratoriums expire, and as Congress fails to renew the $600 weekly unemployment payments that have served as the sole lifeline to millions affected by the global pandemic and economic crisis. We need mass movements of working people, renters, and youth to stand up to the interests of big developers, capitalists, and the Democratic Party machine to defend the homes, jobs, and lives of working class people in communities like East Liberty all over the country.

Stop the Station is a coalition of many organizations in Pittsburgh — including Penn Plaza Support and Action, Socialist Alternative, Black Young and Educated, Pittsburgh I Can't Breathe, and others — calling on the city government to halt the planned construction of the police station and ensure the safety of residents of East Liberty and other neighborhoods against aggressive policing and gentrification!

Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the country, and East Liberty has been ground zero for over a decade now. Day after day, working-class families are forced from the homes and communities they've lived in for decades to make way for higher-paying tenants employed by companies like Google, and many are forced out of the city entirely, unable to afford the rapidly-increasing rent.

Meanwhile, East Liberty is home to many empty lots and storefronts which used to house and serve a vibrant community of Black and working class residents, including the former Penn Plaza. 228 families were forced out of Penn Plaza in order to make way for a second Whole Foods in the neighborhood as part of an initiative by Mayor Peduto to kowtow to Amazon (which owns Whole Foods) and its owner, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. Five years later, the site of one of the last vestiges of affordable housing in the city remains an empty and undeveloped lot, serving no purpose but to line the pockets of idle speculators who hope to someday be able to develop the land into a commercial space to serve the richer and whiter residents flocking into the neighborhood.

We recognize the dangerous role played by police in this process, in harassing and terrorizing the poorer residents of the neighborhood until they leave, and carrying out evictions against tenants when they fail to leave willingly. It's for this reason that we oppose the construction of the new police station, but stopping this one project will not be enough.

As members of Socialist Alternative, we are advocating within the movement to call for not only the halting of the police station, but for the city government to use the money allotted for this project to instead fund affordable housing in East Liberty. We are calling for the defunding of the police by at least 50% and using that money to fund schools and education. And we are calling for a tax on big business, including the "non-profit" health care giant UPMC, to fully fund and develop affordable housing and social services throughout the city.

We are calling on all tenants and workers in and around Pittsburgh to join our movement and defend the right of working people to safe and affordable housing in East Liberty and everywhere else! To get involved, please start by signing our petition to demand that the city government Stop the Station and fund housing and education.

We also need organizations like Rent Strike 2020 to help coordinate movements like this across the country, to develop ideas, perspectives, and initiatives to defend the millions of tenants in the US facing evictions now and in the coming months. Join and invite your friends and neighbors to your local Rent Strike Facebook group, sign our national petition to cancel rent, and donate to Rent Strike 2020 to fund our grassroots organization, which is fighting hard every day to challenge the power of landlords and big business against working people and renters. Every donation helps keep the website up, print flyers and resources that help renters know their rights and organize against evictions!

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