REVEREND JOHN WALLACE CONGRATULATES JEROME JACKSON, RIGHT, DURING A CELEBRATION FOR JACKSON ACKNOWLEDGING HIS CONTRIBUTIONS TO OPERATION BETTER BLOCK. (PHOTO BY J.L. MARTELLO)
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that Jerome Jackson, longtime executive director of Operation Better Block, is now the executive director for the Northside Leadership Conference. Jackson began at the NLC on July 17.
“I had been there for 13 years,” Jackson told the Courier exclusively about his time at OBB, based in Homewood. “I have some health issues, I live on the North Side, this was a little closer to home for me travel-wise. I’m born and raised on the North Side, this is an opportunity for me to bring my skills and talents to the North Side.”
For all that Operation Better Block has done in the Homewood area over the years, Jackson was particularly joyful about the organization’s “Cluster Plan” for Homewood. The plan divided Homewood into nine clusters and the business district, which gave residents who lived in each cluster a voice to say what they wanted in their “cluster,” or community. Jackson said it truly gave the power to the residents, who didn’t have to try to figure out what to do about the entire Homewood, which encompasses some 7,000 residents.
CARLOS THOMAS, GABRIELLE WALKER, JEROME JACKSON, BROTHER MELVIN HUBBARD EL. (PHOTOS BY J.L. MARTELLO)
Jackson said an example of the Cluster Plan was, when there were talks about tearing down homes around the perimeter of Pittsburgh Faison school, residents were able to speak up. “I live in that house,” Jackson said people responded. “The person that owns their house (may have had to) sell their house for not even enough to buy (another) house. There has to be a way where residents have a say” in what’s happening in their community, Jackson told the Courier.
In another example, residents in “Cluster 6,” which includes Brushton Avenue to the east, Forest Way to the south, North Homewood Avenue to the west, and Stranahan Street to the north, wanted Baxter Park to be updated with community gardens and even an event space that would accommodate community performances.
And residents in “Cluster 2,” which includes Westinghouse High School and the surrounding areas, wanted to see the former elementary school on Kedron Street have community space on the ground floor and housing in the upper floors.
Jackson also had a vested interest in getting residents into homes. OBB would acquire homes, rehab them, and then sell them to a possible first-time homebuyer, for, in one case, $90,000. Maybe another house would be rehabbed and sell for $100,000. Jackson said the actions would impact the property values of all the homes on a particular street. Now, if a person decided to sell their home in that part of Homewood, “they have some equity in that house,” Jackson said, or in other words, a person would sell the home for more than it’s worth, according to Allegheny County real estate assessment figures.
Jackson, who was born in Manchester, told the Courier he wants the Northside Leadership Conference to be “more inclusive on the North Side.” That means “looking to see how we can work to provide services for all residents…have a conversation with residents, get a feel for what they think the conference was lacking.”
The Northside Leadership Conference encompasses at least 14 North Side neighborhoods and is divided into six categories: Real Estate Development and Project Management; Business Development; Public Realm (parks, streetscapes, transportation); Public Safety; Health and Wellness; and Communications and Advocacy.
Overall, Jackson said, with development that’s being planned for parts of the North Side, “we need to make sure that (all) people from the North Side” benefit from it, such as residents in the Charles Street Valley and Northview Heights.
As for Operation Better Block, no decision has been made about who the next executive director will be. An OBB board member, Zinna Scott, told the Courier she was serving as the interim executive director for now.
“We will miss him,” Scott said about Jackson. “The community will miss him.”