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CASTER BINION

Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh Executive Director Caster Binion doesn’t like to brag about the initiatives in place to help public housing residents, because that’s what he and his staff are supposed to do—help people.

But after a moment’s reflection on the myriad of programs and initiatives in place to help residents become self-sufficient, he concedes that maybe he should brag a little.

“We do need to brag about it. But we are committed as people to help people. We don’t think about it,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “Success is someone giving the keys to someone who’s been homeless. Success is seeing someone get their GED. At the end of the day, it’s about building self-esteem, self-sufficiency and upward mobility.”

One tool to assist in those efforts is the authority’s Clean Slate E3 scholarship program. And while not new, the total amount available to public housing residents for post-secondary education is. The authority announced last week that, in conjunction with its partner NEED, the authority will provide 10 scholarships of $20,000 each, nearly doubling the annual allocation from $2,250 to $5,000. Applications are now open.

“We get a very strong response to this program because ours is geared at 2.5 GPA,” said Binion. “It’s a recurring scholarship—so if you maintain the average, you keep getting it, even if the family moves out. Hey, if our goal is upward mobility, why would we snatch the rug from underneath you when you’re trying to achieve it?”

Binion noted that the authority also has allocated $100,000 in grants for juvenile re-entry services and $350,000 for family self-sufficiency programs. Some of these include the computer centers in all their family communities and a mobile computer lab for seniors.

“We did that so they’d be able to stay in touch with children and family who’ve moved away,” he said. “When it started a lot of them didn’t know what email was. Now, they’re on Twitter and Facebook, sending me stuff. Also, those who go through the training course get a free refurbished computer.”

The authority’s programs also include homeownership initiatives that saw 13 residents become homeowners last year alone.

The authority also has several workforce training partnerships designed to get residents into the construction trades.

“Before, our residents went through training and just ended up with a certificate, no job. Now we have a program where trainers don’t get paid until our graduates are working. We have 43 in paid training or employed. One partner, 84 Lumber, has eight in their program and that starting wage is $39.63 per hour.”

The authority also partners with CCAC on a healthcare professional job training program that has 12 enrolled and 43 who’ve graduated and are working.

“We’re doing what we can to change the trajectory of these kids,” said Binion. “We’re not just about building houses. We’re about building homes.”

 

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