Conversation with Councilman Lavelle re: Lower Hill Negotiations

Went to Councilman Daniel Lavelle’s community office hours two Mondays ago (yeah, backed up on posting) at the Hill Library and, in addition to a brief conversation on tennis courts in the Hill (which I need to get back to at some point), asked about the status of the negotiations of the Lower Hill Working Group and the Penguins. According to the Councilman the sticking points on the negotiations are the following issues: (a) housing, (b) the degree to which the Penguins are held accountable to achieve outcomes in the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP), (c) a fund for neighborhood development, (d) the governance process for the implementation of the CCIP. This is too much for one post and I need some more information in certain cases, so I will talk about the housing issue in this post and talk about others later.

  • Affordable Housing-The Penguins are not in agreement that 30% of the housing of the Lower Hill should be “affordable” nor in agreement as to what determines what is “affordable”. The Penguins are currently willing to make 20% of the housing “affordable” and want to define affordable as housing for those who make up to 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). The AMI for a family of four in Pittsburgh is $50,489 and so this would mean an income of a little over $40,000 would make you eligible for the affordable housing. However, what’s confusing is that this AMI is based on the income for a family of four, but it appears that this income will work for a single individual since the rent for a single bedroom in the Penguins plan will be $950, according to the Councilman. The Master Plan states that we should use a standard of 50% eligibility of the AMI, but Lavelle said he is open to a broader range.  One of my interests is the Hill would be a place for African American artists and creative types to want to live and help with the goal of the Master Plan to build on the African American legacy. If that eligibility is not altered that it surely won’t be possible for up and coming artists/creatives.

We also went on to talk about the need to increase chatter and community mobilization about these negotiations both in the Hill District and across the city. One idea was Lavelle convene artists and creative types who are active in social media to talk about these negotiations and where they stand. In this way the Lower Hill would be more likely to be seen as the important issue that it is for the whole city, particularly on the question of African American power. The Councilman agreed this was important and was down to convene these folks for a conversation or maybe reach out electronically. Look to your right for a snippet of the the conversation I started via twitter. Thanks to artists Darrell Kinsel and Kenneth Neely for adding some stimulating comments and questions (In addition to his work as a solo artist, Darrell works for an organization that is a grantee of The Heinz Endowments, The MGR Foundation). The Councilman initially responded he agreed that we needed to expand the conversation but did not “add on”, so to speak. To see the full dialogue, you can to my twitter home page @jdlaing. The conversation had some interesting pieces to it.

twitter convo on artists in Lower HillOk, recently looked at the Hill CDC’s website (couldn’t remember what CCIP stood for) and I came across an article from a couple of weeks ago terming conversations between just elected Mayor Bill Peduto and the Penguins as positive and that future discussions would include limits on public dollars and an expanded list of stakeholders participating in the conversations. This will include the Hill District Consensus Group (of which my wife is Co-Director) and so that adds another layer to all of this. The Councilman didn’t mention this issue, but I am sure it is a factor in some form or fashion.

Anyway, my thinking on this has shifted a little since I first began the conversation with the Councilman. Beyond the notion of simply involving artists and creatives in publicizing the issues involved in the Lower Hill negotiations, we need to be actively thinking about how we are going to build on the African American cultural legacy of the Hill District with living African American artists both in the Hill District now and those who might want to come to the Hill District. A necessary but not sufficient step will be making sure that the Lower Hill has housing that will truly be affordable. This will likely take a larger movement, so please spread the word about where these negotiations sit currently. Somehow we need to make the Lower Hill District one of the city’s key social justice issues of the moment. Onward and Upward.

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