Former school board member and longtime community activist Randall Taylor says the city is not serving the people. So he’s going to try to change that—by running for the Pittsburgh City Council District 9 seat currently held by Rev. Ricky Burgess.
Taylor formally announced his candidacy, Jan. 12, and in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, he said this is no lark.
“This is not like the usual race. There are major issues out here,” he said. “This election will determine whether the historically African American community of Homewood will continue to exist or not.”
Though he plans to address the issues of education, employment and violence for all of District 9’s communities, what he’s focusing on—actually, focusing on preventing—is the residential gentrification of Homewood.
“For years we’ve heard how the developers would be coming for the flat land, the proximity to Pittsburgh and to the universities in Oakland. Well, they’re not just coming—they’re here. A guy just recently bought an apartment building, made some renovations and he’s charging $900 a month; $900 a month—in Homewood,” Taylor said.
“The most important message I’d like the people to know is that I lost my home, along with 500 of my neighbors. And you ought to be afraid, if you live in Homewood, that you can lose yours.”
Taylor was one of the residents forced out of Penn Plaza in East Liberty when its owners demolished the property nearly two years ago in hopes of building a more profitable mixed housing and retail center. The spacious land remains vacant.
Taylor, who has spent most of his life working in health and community services, said if voters believe, like he does, that poor people should live in the city so they are close to public transit and support services—instead of being further burdened by the expense of an extended commute—then the city’s approach to housing has to change.
“One of the ways we can do that is to begin to talk about resident and tenant-owned co-ops,” he told the Courier. “That means the city makes an initial investment, say $2 million from the Housing Opportunity Fund, to a group of people and they actually own the property together.
“It’s based pretty much on the model of Belmar Gardens, which I believe is in its 60th year of operation. That way they have an ownership stake, its affordable, they’re not slaves to renting, and after 15 years you can walk away with enough for a down payment on a house if that’s what you want. But we must move away from this privatized, for-profit, developer-driven housing that the city decided to get into 20 years ago.”
Taylor has a similar vision for addressing business development and job creation in the district through community ownership, and through partnerships with major employers.
“I’m talking about business cooperatives. People coming together to operate a business,” he said. “I’m describing a very different way of how a community is structured.”
Taylor said what sets him apart from other candidates is his convictions and experience in social services and as a volunteer with the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, and on the Pittsburgh school board for 12 years.
“I believe if you’re an elected official you should be out in the community—you don’t just show up to vote,” he said. “You use that position to get into homes and have conversations with people you normally wouldn’t—like sitting down with (UPMC President and CEO) Jeffrey Romoff and saying, ‘Hey, is there something we can work out because you have a shortage of workers and we have people who need work.’”
Taylor believes that if people have an ownership stake in their communities, it will also greatly reduce the violence associated with drug commerce. He also believes the city’s current development and housing policies are designed to push Blacks out of the city—and he won’t stand for it.
“I don’t want to see what happened to my neighbors happen here—it happened quickly, it was traumatic, and people lost everything familiar to them,” he said. “African Americans1 have been in this city for 250 years and I’ll be damned if we’re going to leave without a fight. We built this, and we have a right to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
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