Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee Hosts a “Week of Action” Sunday December 15th through Saturday December 21st
Prequel to the “Week of Action”
Throughout the month of November and leading into the month of December there was a political shift that took place in Lancaster, PA. The working class from all backgrounds began to speak out and take action on many issues that are affecting our class. The remarks and participation at the City Council meetings accompanied by many beginning to realize dispossession comes in many forms are great examples of the political shift I speak of. I wrote a piece about what transpired during this political shift, titled “The Price the poor pay for gentrification: Ewell Plaza” and it was published on the Kairos Center blog during our “Week of Action.” The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee decided to host the week of action continuing what was already taking place and largely inspired by what was transpiring at the time. Going into the “Week of Action” our community was facing a large scale water shutoff threat by the City Administration, UPMC petitioned to rezone the old St. Joseph’s Hospital property from a “Hospital Complex” to “mixed use” for businesses and housing and Saturday December 21st is National Homeless Memorial Day, so it was only fitting we host a “Week of Action”
Link to Kairos Center blog here: https://kairoscenter.org/the-price-the-poor-pay-for-gentrification-lancaster-pa/
Colleen Wessel McCoy from the Kairos Center shared about the work of Put People First! PA and our current fight happening in Lancaster, PA. The piece she wrote was published on December 23, 2019. Here’s an excerpt and link to the entire written piece by Colleen.
“Call to Action! Stop the Water Shut Offs!”
Lancaster City Council Meeting Action: Tuesday December 17, 2019
We returned to City Council on Tuesday December 17th after we had already spoke at a previous City Council meeting the week before regarding the water shutoffs happening throughout our community alongside other concerned residents. The Lancaster City Administration chose a tactic of threatening to shut off residents water if they had yet to comply with the mandatory water meter upgrade.
After the previous City Council meeting where many of us spoke out against the water shut offs, and the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival publicly showed their support the Lancaster City Administration decided to remove tenant occupied properties off the water shutoff list so the tenants wouldn’t be affected, that still left homeowners at risk of losing their basic human right to water.
At Put People First! PA when we say “Everybody In, Nobody Out” We mean it so we went back Tuesday December 17th to demand a stop to ALL water shut offs! We didn’t just speak out against the water shut offs, we also continued our outcry about the removal of the bus shelters and bus stop near the 101NQ development and pleaded with the City Administration to push back against the petition being proposed by UPMC to rezone the old St. Joseph’s Hospital property from a “Hospital Complex” to “Mixed Use” for businesses and housing.
Leaders in the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee were concerned that residents in Lancaster could become homeless if they have their water shut off and that made this issue one that needed to be addressed with urgency. (Matt makes demand to stop all water shut offs- https://youtu.be/DPVRSIdCvak) The Law states that if a utility such as water is shut off for 72 hours, the property could be condemned and residents forced to vacate the property immediately thus rendering them homeless. There is a misconception about homeownership, people believe homeownership creates wealth so many seem to think if you’re a homeowner you must not be poor and should have no problem completing the necessary work to comply with the mandatory water meter upgrade.
The reality is homeownership doesn’t actually “create wealth” for the majority of homeowners. Recent media coverage on the water shutoff issue shows a great example of homeowners who are struggling to comply with the water meter upgrade. Many look into homeownership as a way to pay less monthly in comparative to what it would cost to rent. Yet many of those same homeowners find themselves struggling to keep up with the necessary upkeep of the home and property taxes that are ever on the rise in many communities.
Dottie Almoney, a faith leader in the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival shared remarks about the water shut offs, her concerns about our housing crisis, current economic development that is happening which is causing mass displacement and ended her remarks with a reflection about Lancaster, PA being the refugee capital of the United States and how we should think carefully when deciding the future of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital. (See video of her remarks here: https://youtu.be/EWjvDeLVPzc)
Rev. Tim Seitz-Brown who is also a faith leader in the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival thanked City Council for removing tenant rental properties from the water shut off list. He continued by expressing concerns around the economic development that is happening throughout Lancaster and pleaded with the City Administration to listen to the poor and dispossessed for the poor have great ideas and their voices should be heard.
(Video Link of remarks https://youtu.be/iWCKH892IyE)
People from the local art community were present at this City Council meeting as well, they continued to speak out against the $600,000 public art proposal that is to take place in Ewell Plaza. I hear it’s the largest public art project in our community’s history, and the local art community was largely excluded from the process. April, a member of the local art community, who owns an art gallery on N. Mulberry Street, put forth a proposal to City Council about the public art project. She offered to fundraise and pay back the $15,000 the City paid to R&R studios and asked that the City Administration scratch the plan they have now and instead work with local artists on the project. April gave us her card at one of the November City Council meetings and wants to connect with us to learn more about our work in the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). Connecting with the local art community is one of our goals in 2020, we’re aiming for a PPC art mural in Lancaster, and this could be an awesome project to develop leaders in the movement.
Art, an ex Lancaster Mayor spoke out as well at this City Council meeting, continuing his push back against decisions being made by the Lancaster City Administration. He shared his thoughts about the new employees hired by the city, their expertise versus what positions they were hired to fill. Sounded like a very good reflection on the city’s priorities, who they hired and why—sounds like they are expert gentrifiers, and that should concern us all.
(Link to complete City Council meeting footage, Art speaks at timestamp 26:10-30:27- https://youtu.be/1mhnM2_fyuM) Art also spoke out about the rise in rates around the water & sewage fees. He expressed concerns on how will the poor, those living in poverty be able to afford the new severe rise in the cost, which is approximately $200 annually.
Nathan Warren, a member of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee shared with City Council and those present his personal testimony about how the removal of the bus shelters and bus stop from the 100 block of North Queen Street, otherwise known as 101NQ, has affected him and others. His remarks were powerful and spoke truth to power. Afterwards a City official stated to Nathan the decision to do that would not fall on City Administration but rather those who run the public transportation system. Yet in reality when the City Administration voted in favor of the proposed plan for the development at 101NQ/Ewell Plaza they did in fact vote away those bus shelters and bus stop. You can clearly see they are not shown in the rendering photos of that project. (Video Link of Nathan’s remarks here: https://youtu.be/QxXcq0BRFyA)
Tammy Rojas, a member of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee pleaded with City Council to push back against the UPMC rezoning petition and instead stand with the community against UPMC and their desire to make a real estate deal that would devastate the legacy of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital and further gentrify our community continuing the displacement of the poor and dispossessed. “Don’t let a global Healthcare conglomerate corporation like UPMC destroy the history and legacy of what was once St. Joseph’s Hospital!”- Tammy said (Link to video of remarks https://youtu.be/Hsisg13v4lQ)
After this City Council meeting we began to hear from others in the community who wish to show their support in our fight against UPMC. They showed up at the City Planning Commission Meeting Action to support us after a year of us speaking out against the actions of UPMC. They finally joined us and spoke out with us in resistance, against the UPMC rezoning petition. This proves we can come together as a class, it just requires clear, competent, committed and connected leaders among the poor and dispossessed to make it happen.
Shortly after this City Council meeting took place, Art, April and others filed a lawsuit against the City Administration over the public art proposal project.
LNP Article December 19, 2019 Lawsuit
LNP Article: City Council Meeting coverage