Make Pittsburgh a livable city for all

by Rev. Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle

According to numerous publications, Pittsburgh has been determined to be America’s most livable city. However, according to a report by the Gender Equity Commission, Pittsburgh was found to be one of the worst places for Black people to live in America. Black communities have the highest number of shootings and gun-related deaths in the City of Pittsburgh.

Black neighborhoods have the city’s largest blight as evidenced by vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties. Contrary to being “most livable,” our Black communities lack basic amenities such as grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores, and quality sit-down restaurants. Instead of mixed-income communities that contribute to quality living, all too many Black communities are filled with fixed-income senior citizen homeowners who have no equity in their homes, as well as low-income single mothers doing their best to raise their children in a community with failing schools and few positive outlets. As our communities cope with the disproportionate effects of coronavirus, they are mired in an economic crisis induced by systemic racism.

Black Pittsburgh is in desperate need of comprehensive economic development, which includes the creation of wealth from which the communities benefit individually and collectively. We need more than a jobs program or a housing project. We need nothing less than comprehensive investments that grow community economies, and enhance the prosperity and quality of life for all residents.

We must comprehensively rebuild Black communities for Black people by Black people with the unwavering support of our friends and allies, and do so towards the benefit of the entire city. We must build affordable housing; reduce crime and violence; strengthen social institutions; increase employment and entrepreneur activities; and equip Black children with the education and tools for success. It’s critical that we not only address these matters, but do so simultaneously.

Increased affordable housing is the most expensive and perhaps most urgently needed intervention for Black Pittsburgh. Currently, the city has a 17,000-unit affordable housing shortage, and this number increases every year. Our City has invested in a number of new mixed-income projects including those in Larimer, Homewood, the Hill, Garfield and the North Side. In an additional push to address Pittsburgh’s affordable housing crisis, the city has established the Pittsburgh Housing Opportunity Fund, through which the city has committed $10 million annually. The funds support the development and preservation of affordable and accessible housing in areas with good access to public transit, jobs, good schools, childcare, grocery stores and other amenities that individuals and families need to improve their and their children’s health, safety and economic self-sufficiency, and to address other critical housing needs.

However, despite these and other efforts, the issue of affordable housing worsens. Pittsburgh needs a larger infusion of resources to both jumpstart development projects in Black communities and reduce the affordable housing shortage. The city could, for example, issue between $60-$120 million in bonds to immediately and significantly fund the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund. With these new funds we will be able to build new construction and rehab existing properties to create affordable, quality housing options for homeownership and rentals in Black communities.

For the city of Pittsburgh to truly be the most livable city for all residents, principles of equity and fairness require us to invest disproportionately in poor Black neighborhoods. Merely giving an equal proportional share of resources now will not be enough to overcome decades of damage done by neglect and systemic racism.

At this time, we need Pittsburgh citizens as well as those who benefit in other ways from the city, to commit to the comprehensive development of Pittsburgh Black neighborhoods. A significant, sustained, holistic investment in Pittsburgh’s Black neighborhoods will be a tangible measurement of our city’s commitment to fairness, equity and inclusion, and a tangible measure of our city’s greatness. It’s time to make Pittsburgh not just a livable city for some but rather a time for us to “rise like a phoenix from the ashes” of systemic racism and make Pittsburgh one of our nation’s greatest cities for all!

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