Councilman Lavelle: “The most expensive and perhaps most urgently needed intervention for Black people is the provision of more affordable housing.”

Photo of City Council Chamber by Ashlee Green

In recent years, Pittsburgh has often been cited in lists from various publications as one of the most livable cities in the country. The often celebrated accolade, however, offers an incomplete narrative: one side of a coin that does not take into account the reality experienced by its African American population. The numbers on that front paint a completely different picture as highlighted in the Gender Equity Commission report released in 2019, which notes that “Black residents could move to almost any other US city of comparable size and have a better quality of life.”

Contrary to being “most livable,” our Black communities lack basic amenities such as grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores, and quality sit-down restaurants. Some of these communities experience the highest number of shootings and gun-related deaths in the city of Pittsburgh, and proportionally have the highest number of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties. They are in desperate need of comprehensive economic development. What is essential is more than a jobs program or a housing project. Comprehensive investments that grow community economies and enhance the prosperity and quality of life for all residents are required.

These efforts entail a rebuild of Black communities for Black people by Black people with the unwavering support of our friends and allies. Doing so is of benefit not just to these communities, but also to the city of Pittsburgh as a whole. A multipronged approach that gets at the basic infrastructure that builds a healthy community or that makes it successful would address the need for better schools, new affordable housing, improved public safety, strengthened social institutions, and an increase in employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

In terms of priorities, the most expensive and perhaps most urgently needed intervention for Black people is the provision of more affordable housing. Currently there is a 17,000-unit shortage of affordable housing in the city of Pittsburgh 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 District, Garfield, and the Northside. In addition, the City has established the Pittsburgh Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF). Through this fund, the City has committed $10 million dollars annually to address Pittsburgh’s affordable housing crisis. 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 health, safety, and economic self-sufficiency as well as their children’s.

Despite these and other efforts, the issue of affordable housing continues to worsen. 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 dollars 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.

In order 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. 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. 

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