By Blake Garrison
On July 2, tenants of Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (AHRCO) and activists with the United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM) rallied outside the corporation’s office to demand an end to slum conditions, rent collection, and eviction, as well as the firing of AHRCO slumlord Laquaya Maxwell and to publicize the case of Dominique, a wheelchair-bound AHRCO tenant with no ramp to her apartment.
Dominique could not attend because her son was sick with lead poisoning from their apartment’s pipes. She told Tribune of the People that her upstairs unit was supposed to be temporary until AHRCO found her ground-floor accommodations. It has now been three years, and AHRCO will not provide a ramp or allow UNDM activists to build one, saying “the state won’t let us” and “you can’t change the rules.”
Dominique also fears for the health of her children because the apartment is infested with mice and mold. “They don’t fix nothing,” she said, “they claim that they don’t have the funds to do it. But they make sure to collect rent money every month.”
A supporter named Carmen addressed this injustice and the role of City Council, whose complicity allows AHRCO to abuse their tenants: “She should have ADA accommodations, but they won’t do it, they won’t give it to her. And this is a damn shame!”
Carmen also criticized Councilman Ricky Burgess, who she called “one of the biggest supporters of gentrification”:
“All he’s worried about is money in his pocket,” she said. “He’s worried about how much money he can get off of poor communities.”
AHRCO has a history of slum conditions and disinvestment. One supporter referenced the displacement of almost 80 AHRCO tenants last year when a fire destroyed their building on DeRaud Street. Although AHRCO attempted to blame the fire on a child, tenants said the real cause was exposed electrical wiring which maintenance wouldn’t fix. “And this is what the class struggle is,” the supporter said, “the class struggle is, we are fighting for our lives… while a handful of people are making money off our backs.”
Appalling conditions in housing and the treatment of tenants by landlords will only worsen as the new depression continues, but UNDM is gaining momentum as a united force of tenants, activists, and workers choosing to fight back. As the AHRCO tenants’ accounts show, there is no help to be found in pleading with landlords or appealing to elected officials within the capitalist system.