‘We’ve seen the devastating effects of gentrification’: Lancaster protest focuses on housing equity

Protesters on the streets of downtown Lancaster, Pa. on 8/5/20 (Capital-Star photo by Lauren Manelius)

LANCASTER — A group of about two dozen protestors marched through downtown Lancaster Wednesday at a rally organized by the group Put People First!, who are calling for a “moral revival” and an end to gentrification practices in the city.

After gathering at Penn Square, participants made stops outside the offices of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District; state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster; state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, and the Lancaster County Commissioners.

“I see it as a build-up, and a development of a class consciousness within the community through what came out of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the recent uprisings across the country. People start realizing the interconnection of all the issues,” organizer Tammy Rojas told the Capital-Star.

“It’s the interconnection of all issues that lead to state violence. Not just the outward state violence of police killing people, it’s the lack of healthcare. It’s the lack of housing. It’s the lack of just basic care for humanity, when corporations are getting billions of dollar bailouts,” co-organizer Matthew Rosing said. “But 40 percent of Americans couldn’t pay their rent this month. There’s a mass eviction crisis on the horizon, once they lift these moratoriums.”

“We’re getting kicked out of our house, by our landlord,” attendee Kaleb Hussen, 7, said while walking to Sturla’s office.

“We got a 30-day notice to vacate during the pandemic, through a text message. Even though he wasn’t allowed to do that, through the governor’s order. He wanted to renovate the property and raised the rent to over $1,000,” Kaleb’s mother, Samantha Krizmencic, told the Capital-Star. “We’ve lived there for seven years and we pay $675 a month. I’ve always paid my rent on time.”

Hussen added that he’s not nervous about moving, because his mom will figure it out.

Attendees Raymond Mako and Jontel Toland, friends who have both experienced homelessness while living in Lancaster, spoke about growing frustration with policy related to income.

“We’ve seen the gradual progression, further deepening of criminalization of homelessness. We’ve seen the devastating effects of gentrification here,” Toland said.

Rally attendees pointed to the purchase and closure of the former Lancaster Regional Medical Center by UPMC — plus UPMC’s closing of dozens of other hospitals and facilities around Pennsylvania — and the city’s lack of action as an example. 

“They want it rezoned, they want to make a real estate deal,” Rojas said of UPMC. “Here we are giving a bailout to them — and they recently wrote legislation that is going to change healthcare as we know it in the state of Pennsylvania …They are one of the entities that controls the Pennsylvania state government,” Rojas said.

In front of Smucker’s office, Terrell Turner spoke about misplaced government priorities.

“We know that Lloyd Smucker, at best, he does nothing. At worst, he does harmful things. And because of that, we have no choice but to call him out. I assure you he will not spend one day here talking to the individuals of his district,” Turner said. “The pandemic didn’t make anyone lose their job. It’s because of failed government,” he said, adding that the government is quick to support corporations, but not other job providers or individuals.

In front of Sturla’s office, Jessica Lopez explained that  gentrification leads to inequity in education and lack of transportation for low-income communities. She also talked about issues with policing.

“When I was in the commissioners’ workshop yesterday, I found out that the Drug Task Force is not Lancaster city police. So while Lancaster city police is fully equipped with body cameras, the Drug Task Force is not. [They’re] allowed to enter your home with no search warrant, and no body cameras,” she said. 

During speeches at Martin’s office, in a move not planned by organizers, a woman sat in a traffic lane of West Chestnut Street, impeding the flow of traffic. When police officers asked her to move, she declined, and was eventually taken into custody without further incident. Another woman and a man followed suit and were also arrested, the Lancaster Bureau of Police said in a statement

All three were charged with obstructing highways and other public passageways, a misdemeanor, and released later in the day on Wednesday.

Correspondent Lauren Manelius covers Lancaster County for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @El_Manels.