Adrienne Walnoha presents a list of questions to the city’s representatives at the 2011 capital budget and Community Development Blog Grant Program hearing on Aug. 18. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)
Several Northside groups made an appearance at the city’s 2011 capital budget and Community Development Block Grant Program hearing at the Brighton Heights Senior Center yesterday to ask the city for capital funds and CDBG money.
The Northside Leadership Conference, the Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council, the Fineview Citizens Council and the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing all requested financial support from the city during the next fiscal year.
Bill Weir of Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council brought up several problem areas in his community that would benefit from city funds, including the Charles Street overpass that is crumbling and excessive potholes on Perrysville Avenue.
“I really want to point out the importance of keeping the street in good condition,” he said, though he did not specify if he was asking the city for capital funds or CDBG funds.
Although one concerned citizen brought up the issue of supplanting CDBG money, others, like Weir, emphasized the need to keep the city’s roads in good repair.
Supplanting is when the city uses federal funds like the block grants to cover expenses normally covered by city capital funds (such as road repair). CDBG funds generally go toward the development of struggling communities and are not meant to replace city capital funds.
English Burton, of California-Kirkbride, also spoke of crumbling streets and sidewalks.
“We got all these empty lots,” Burton said. “Take some of that danger off the corners.”
Mark Fatla of the Northside Leadership Conference called for the city to increase funds available through the Advisory Commission on Community Based Organizations (a part of Pennsylvania’s Act 47 for distressed communities) from $700,000 per year to $1 million per year.
Fatla also requested funds for two specific projects, the Allegheny Commons Initiative’s restoration of Allegheny Commons Park and a proposed plan to reconnect East Ohio and Federal streets through Allegheny Center.
“There needs to be a commitment of passion from the city” on those two projects, Fatla said.
Phase I of the park restoration of East Park below East Ohio Street along Cedar Avenue is complete, and Fatla said Phase II will start this fall, with funds mostly from private organizations.
Three representatives from the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing urged the city to stop ignoring low income neighborhoods like California-Kirkbride.
“There’s a history of not supporting low income housing,” said Ronell Guy of the coalition.
In addition to bringing home owners to the area, she advocated for the upkeep of affordable rental properties for those who cannot purchase homes.
Angel Gober, also a member of the coalition, echoed Guy’s concerns. “There’s neighborhoods that you can tell aren’t getting their fair share. I’ve lived on the Northside for the past 11 years and the same houses are still boarded up.”
She asked why development money was going into Shadyside when so many lots and buildings on the Northside sit abandoned and empty.
Both women criticized the city for the way in which it conducted the meeting. Gober asked how the city had advertised the meeting and expressed disappointment in the low turnout.
“I also want to suggest the next time you plan one of these meetings you plan it somewhere there’s parking,” Guy said.
David Ogunsanya, another coalition member, requested new public housing units in California-Kirkbride. He said the current units have no air conditioning, and that they are too small and it is difficult to get furniture up the stairs.
“We need funds for the California-Kirkbride plan that we’re working on,” he added.
Gober and Guy were not alone in criticizing the city. Adrienne Walnoha brought a list of questions to the city representatives and called for more transparency and public involvement.
She echoed the concerns about supplanting that others brought up as well as asked for more explanation for how funds allocated in the budget are actually used.
Patricia Buck, of Finview Citizens Council thanked the city for its support and gave encouragement to other struggling neighborhood groups.
“I realize that in many ways Fineview has moved far ahead because of tens of thousands of volunteer hours.”
A second meeting will be held tonight at the South Side Senior Center (12th and Bingham streets) at 6:30 p.m.