Homewood coalition formed

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Now that his city council race is over, Rev. Ricky Burgess can move on an initiative he announced just before the primary election, the Homewood Planning and Development Collaborative.

“There are resources in and around the city that need to be marshaled to move development in Homewood,” he said. “This gives us a funnel to target those resources to specific tasks. It’s the missing piece the community needs, the liaison.”

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UNIFIED FRONT—Joseph Preston and Rev. Ricky Burgess hear from their constituents.(Photo by J.L. Martello).

During a pre-election press event, Burgess, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and representatives from City Planning and the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced funding plans for the new organization and highlighted its community partners—Operation Better Block, the Homewood-Brushton Comprehensive Coalition Organization and the Community Empowerment Association.

The CEA will receive Community Development Block Grant funds to increase its workforce development capacity, Burgess said. So when development gets underway in Homewood, local residents and youth will have acquired the skills and training to work at the construction and rehab jobs being created.

Operation Better Block will undertake the updating of the now 12-year-old development plan crafted by the Homewood-Brushton Redevelopment Corporation. This work will also be funded through CDBG grants, but Better Block President Jerome Jackson said the work would go on even without additional funding.

“The plan is old, and nothing was really done with it. There was a housing piece and some services but no specific projects, no costs, no greenspace,” he said.

“We want to include social services, business development define how we use all the space, so we know what we’re doing with every lot. Then we’ll coordinate that with the citywide development plan.

Only the HBCCO has received direct city funding, $150,000, that Burgess said he put in the city budget two years ago. The money will go to hire two professional developers.

“Development requires a specific set of skills that are not generally inherent in our community,” said Burgess. “These professionals would work out of HBCCO in partnership with city planning and the URA.”

Burgess said economic development will be the focus of the Collaborative, noting that the URA has quietly over the last few years acquired all but one lot along Homewood Avenue between Hamilton Avenue and the East Busway.

“We’re actually looking at using the busway as a development incubator, like they did with some of the elevated train lines in New York,” he said. “Make it an anchor instead of a barrier.”

Rev. Samuel Ware, past HBCCO president said he’s all for business development, but doesn’t think another layer like the planning and development collaborative is needed.

“I don’t think it’s the best use of funds,” he said. “Give the money to people already doing development in Homewood.”

Burgess said he will announce the funding amounts for Better Block and CEA once the city receives the federal letter of credit. He said residents should begin to see some results within a year.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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