The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority planned to purchase over 220 properties at a city treasurer’s sale in the city’s Middle Hill area this Friday, April 28.
But thanks to a public outcry from community members, and a letter denouncing the action signed by those such as Marimba Milliones, Carl Redwood and other groups, the sale is off—for now.
“We, the undersigned, are not in support of this landgrab that has put the Hill District, its residents, stakeholders and leadership under unjustifiable duress,” the letter said, addressed to Mayor Peduto and Robert Rubenstein, executive director of the URA.
Milliones is the executive director of the Hill District Community Development Corporation. Others in support of the letter included, among others, Urban Innovation21, Hill House Association, Hill District Ministers Alliance, and the Ebenezer Development Corporation.
“The Hill District is uniquely positioned for community-driven transformation. It is the only Pittsburgh neighborhood with a comprehensive master plan, two community benefits agreements, coordinated leadership and a critically-acclaimed business district plan and Greenprint,” the letter continued. “As such, it is both surprising and unacceptable that the city of Pittsburgh and Urban Redevelopment Authority have consorted to once again disempower hundreds of poor, working- and middle- class African American property owners by triggering an aggressive city, county and school district tax collection process upon tax-delinquent property owners.”
Carl Redwood, a board member of the Hill District Consensus Group, said it was unusual to see that high of a percentage of properties up for sale in just one part of the city. The original treasurer’s sale was going to involve roughly 330 units citywide.
“The community really wasn’t consulted, and when the community did raise objections they weren’t listened to,” Redwood said.
Redwood said the primary issue is “the disposition of the units—what are they going to go for and who’s going to help determine that.”
The city is looking to redevelop the Bedford Dwellings housing complex, the oldest remaining public housing development in the city. Redwood said the city will be able to use a $500,000 Neighborhood Choice grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to tear down the current 411-unit Bedford Dwellings complex and use other property in the Middle Hill to begin creating an eventual 1,200 unit “mixed income housing” development.
But the letter sent to Mayor Peduto and Rubenstein insinuates that the URA could try to use the land in a way that pushes more African Americans out of the Hill District—Developing housing that could be deemed unaffordable for many African American residents.
“Therefore, instead of the city’s current approach of securing site control for the redevelopment of the Hill District, we expect that the city of Pittsburgh and URA will support the establishment of a Hill District Community Land Trust in which any tax-delinquent Hill District land pursued by public and or quasi-public agencies hence forth will be deposited,” the letter said.
Redwood told the New Pittsburgh Courier that a Land Trust in the Hill District can help community residents become first-time homebuyers, and then if they want to move, the home can be sold to another first-time homebuyer. Many of the first-time homeowners would be African American.
In proposing the Hill District Community Land Trust to Mayor Peduto and Rubenstein, the letter said the Trust would “prevent displacement of low to moderate income homeowners, renters and business owners; (and) Leverage the equity of land to encourage investment of broad scale development that positions the Hill District community for market strength and opportunity, versus weakness and dependency.”
Redwood said members of his community would not allow the URA to purchase so many properties in the Middle Hill without putting up a verbal fight.
“Because of the income levels of people in Pittsburgh, Black family incomes are well below the median income for Pittsburgh,” Redwood said. “So one of the ways that Black families are targeted is by focusing on income—price them out or price them in. We need housing for Black families, but a lot of people feel like they can’t come out and say that,” Redwood said.
“There’s other people that have plans for our Hill District community, and they’re not necessarily in line with our Hill District committee plans,” Redwood said. “We’re not opposed to them having plans, but they need to come through our community process in order for them to have support for their plan, because it has to align with our plan.”
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