About 75 residents turned out for a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Jake Wheatley at the Letter Carriers Hall in California-Kirkbride on Thursday, April 15.
Both of the Northside’s council members, Daniel Lavelle and Darlene Harris, were on hand, as well as Ed Gainey from the Mayor’s Office, Mark Brentley from the Pittsburgh school board and Dave Weber from the city’s Housing Authority.
“Sometimes people confuse which of their legislative leaders handle which problems. We thought a collaborative approach to this might solve these issues more successfully,” Harris reminded guests before the question and answer portion of the night began.
But the event’s proximity to the primary on May 18th wasn’t lost on those in attendance.
“This is a time for politicking,” said Ginger Herring of Brightwood. “So I hope we have more meetings, but I wouldn’t expect it.”
Angel Gober acted as a moderator for the crowd’s questions, which ranged from housing issues and education to jobs and health.
The most strident question an attendee asked was why a teenager who gets out of jail can’t return to his family’s publically-subsidized home.
A federal housing law denies a person with even a misdemeanor to live in housing subsidized by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, known as HUD.
A portion of HUD’s Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy denies eligibility for housing assistance to those with misdemeanors for four years and those with felonies for seven years.
While there was shallow agreement by some of the panelists that the law did not help to rehabilitate ex-convicts, Harris argued that law-abiding neighbors in the vicinity of public housing have their own right to safety.
David Weber said the law was federal, and thus above the purview of the city’s Housing Authority, but that it was made nonetheless with the consent of an advisory board and residents’ input.
Another attendee asked government leaders what they could do to fix the city’s “failing education system.”
Wheatley pointed to state achievement numbers that have increased in the last two years and put the onus for improvement on recent investments in early childhood education.
Harris agreed. “If a child can’t read by third grade, they’re going to get into fights, because they don’t want other kids to know they can’t read.”
Lavelle touted the concept of merit-based pay, an idea to pay teachers based on their student’s educational growth, which is unpopular with teacher unions. Pittsburgh Public Schools do not have such a policy.
Regarding questions concerning jobs, all officials mentioned the expected job increases because of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits.
Wheatley said he would try to facilitate local hiring, but it was up to job seekers to gain the training and skills required for jobs in that field.
Gainey said public officials need to look into methods of transporting city workers to jobs in the Marcellus Shale regions outside of Allegheny County and also to help job seekers prepare with training.
After the panel discussion, RaShall Brackney, police commander of zone 1, announced that all police officers will be outfitted with vehicle cameras in the next month.
Herring thought the meeting was well worth it. “It was a good showing of politicians, however, I wish a lot more people would have come out. I was expecting 200.”