Tag Archives: Hill District Community Development Corporation

Affordable Elegance Comes to Centre Ave

Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I img_4515-0type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.

To reach Affordable Elegance, email affordable.elegance22@gmail.com or give a call to 412.224.0653.


Confidentiality, Community Development & Power

This post has been sitting for a second, but I’ve been a little distracted. It is written in protest of the confidentiality component of the recently launched (March 30th) Hill District Development Review Panel, the process developed by the Hill Community Development Corporation and the Hill District Consensus Group to facilitate the process by which new developments can be said to have community support. I was nominated to the DRP by the Hill District Consensus Group (where my wife is the co-director) and went to the December orientation meeting, but had real disagreement with both the actual power of the Panel, which appears limited, and process of the Panel. Maybe I will devote a future post to the power of the panel ( you can see some of my thoughts in the linked email below), but I want to call out a particular part of the process and that is its confidentiality. That is in order to participate on the Panel the participants must sign a confidentiality agreement, a confidentiality agreement so strong that the signers agree to not mention the agreement itself.  BradPittFightClubI sent an email to the signers of my initial  invitation to join the DRP in January, Ms. Marimba Milliones, Ms. Chloe Velasquez of the Hill District Community Development Corporation and Mr. Carl Redwood and Dr. Emma Lucas Darby of the Hill District Consensus Group saying that I would not sign the confidentiality agreement to which I did not receive a response. However, according to Mr. Redwood, chair of the HDCG, I am still one HDCG’s nominations to serve on the DRP which is cool because the idea of communities engaging development and developers is a good one. I will not recount the explanation I was given for this mandatory agreement as it I don’t fully understand it and I might get it wrong, but you can read my criticism of what I was told in my email to the parties saying I would not sign the agreement. I sent an email a couple of weeks ago to both organizations seeking to confirm that the confidentiality agreement was still in place and Mr. Redwood’ said the Panel has not actually been convened since it met in December.

Maybe the most important question in terms of community development work is how does confidentiality contribute to community? My view on the role that community planning processes should play in the development of community go back to Laing letter to Lavelle-Support the Planning Forum in 2012. Our community development leadership just doesn’t seem to see building collective power as being in our individual best interest. Were we to face any of these hateful acts of police murder, or even as we are traumatized by our young family members being murdered by other young people in the community we are not organized sufficiently yet to change these outcomes. This same logic applies to how the Penguins failed to meet our goals for community development, or how the Lower Hill is discussed as a critical location by the City and my employer, The Heinz Endowments,  do we have the collective power to make sure the Master Plan and its goals are our an important part of the conversation? If we take our recent inability to get the Penguins to honor our affordable housing goals as evidence of where this neighborhood’s ideas for itself sit in Pittsburgh’s economic, social and political thinking, the answer to that question is no.

Good Night at Hill CDC Meeting. Opportunities for Public Campaign?

This past Tuesday the Hill CDC had a meeting to give “critical updates” to the community re: the issues of the Lower Hill. I was only able to make the second half of the meeting, but from what I saw it looked good on several fronts. Good turnout. Good energy in the room of more than 100 folks that tended to be a little older than me-maybe 50’s 60’s and people stayed in the room through the end and then hung around afterwards. Ms. Marimba Milliones, Executive Director of the Hill CDC, presented on the key issues being negotiated by the Lower Hill Working Group and gave the members of that group as Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Marimba Milliones, Glenn Grayson (elected at July 1 CDC meeting as community representative), David Hopkins, Bomani Howze, William Generett, Marc Little, Jason Matthews, Micah Taylor (elected at July 1 CDC meeting as community representative),  Brenda Tate, Rev. Margaret Tyson, Dewitt Walton, Rev. Tom Smith, & Sala Udin. From the power point handout I note that the following issues were presented as the key areas of concern: (1) The need for the Pens to agree to a legally enforceable document; (2) 30% affordable housing; (3) Lower Hill Working Group will have “fair share decision making with the Penguins over the long haul” and (4) An ongoing revenue stream that comes back to the Hill District over many years.

The next section of the presentation focused on the Penguins’ Preliminary Land Development Plan (PLDP) and the work of the PLDP & Street Grid Committee whose members were listed as Audrey Anderson, John Anderson, William Bercik, Esq, Robert Damewood, Esq., Phyliss Ghafoor, Bomani Howze, Bonnie Laing*, Justin Laing,* Emma Pipkin, Glenn Seals, Susan Rademacher*, George Moses*. The asterisk signifies contributors. My wife, Bonnie, and I stopped participating on the committee because of the requirement that participants treat documents to and from the Penguins as confidential, but made contributions early on. The feedback of this group produced a 30 page memo that the handout says is available at the request of the CDC.

One of my questions was how the negotiation strategy could be expanded to include a public campaign. In 2007, the Penguins got their base mobilized with the threat to take their puck and go to Kansas City. When negotiations stalled Mr. Lemieux would skate out and say “It’s looking good out there, we could leave any second, I mean it!”. You may remember that one of the sticking points in those negotiations was the Penguins receiving the development rights for the Lower Hill. Ms. Milliones asked how many would sign a petition in support of the effort, and it appeared about a quarter of the room would get behind the idea (hardly a scientific poll, as there really wasn’t a lot of time to discuss why the pros and cons of this idea). Councilman Lavelle said he would sponsor a petition and bring it to the next meeting and I suggested that more information be provided on the issues being negotiated and why they matter, even info that could be found on the web. The Councilman said he was amenable to this idea, so we’ll see (for example, the power point alludes to a draft negotiation document that is in the works).

One sticking point between the Lower Hill District Working Group and the Penguins is whether the development will include 20% affordable housing which is what the Penguins want and is the number they used in their study of the economic impact of this development and the 30% number used in the Hill District Master Plan. Also critical is that the definition the two groups are using of “affordable housing” are different. The Hill District Master Plan defines affordable as no more than 50% of the City’s Average Median Income (AMI) and the Penguins want to use 80% of the AMI as the bar.  Although I didn’t hear this (again, I got there an hour into the meeting) I would bet another one of the sticking points in the negotiation is any hint that the Penguins will put their own $ in the deal for “an ongoing revenue stream that comes back to the Hill District over many years.” The Penguins resistance on at least the first issue is why it seems to me a robust public advocacy campaign is necessary and also why I as a PLDP committee member I suggested that the memo to the Penguins make direct references to the Community Benefits Agreement negotiated by One Hill Community Benefits Coalition as legal support for the parts of the Penguins plan that do not honor the Master Plan (and there are many), but the CDC did not make this choice. (The steward of the CBA is the Hill District Consensus Group, of which my wife is the co-director and I was very active in the leadership of One Hill, particularly before it elected its own leadership)

Some of the questions raised by community members were as follows: Will anything happen to the senior citizen housing that boarders the site? Councilman Lavelle’s response was that nothing would happen to the K. Leroy Irvis Towers as long as he was in office. Could the Penguins agree to 30% affordable housing now and if the community’s income goes up over the next ten years the number could be moved to 20%? Lavelle noted this as an interesting idea. Could a benefit from the negotiations include transportation for seniors from downtown to the Hill? This was noted as an interesting idea as well. Another question was raised by Glenn Seals (aka Freedom Fighter) who is usually the community member to speak most forthrightly about issues of race and class (and often gets the most head nods) as to what had to be done to prevent this development from pushing current residents out? Ms. Milliones responded that the issue would be addressed later in the meeting and later she shared news of a coming campaign to get a 100 people to sign up to want to buy new homes in the Hill District. This campaign will involve getting support to interested folks including credit repair and information on securing a loan. While the lower priority for public mobilizing, and what appears to be a choice not to reference the CBA, leaves me some concern as to how we will respond if the Penguins do not negotiate honorably and in accordance with the Master Plan, the turnout and energy in the room suggests folks’ interests and history have us ready. Nice work on the part of the CDC in getting the word out (one resident was very appreciative of the robo call she received).

A last thought on the notion of a campaign to get the Penguins to make the kind of commitment that will set a new norm for how this city interfaces with private entities that get public benefits. In addition to petitions, those of you who use Facebook and Twitter,  post or tweet about why public subsidies require public benefits with the hash tag #PlayFairPens. Even more on line chatter from Hill District residents and non-Hill District residents as to the importance of this negotiation to the Hill District and the region as a whole would be a good thing as the Penguins prepare to kick off the 2013-2014 season next Thursday at the Consol Center. Play fair, Pens.

Feels Like Public Process in Lower Hill is Waddling

PenguinsAttended the Hill CDC meeting Monday evening and when I came in at 7 pm (meeting began at 6 p.m.)  roundtables were being held looking for participants to weigh in on  what appeared to be the 5 principles of the Master Plan (see prior post). I went to the housing roundtable and one of the questions asked was “what strategies might support housing affordability and home ownership, which provoked a response from one of the folks at the table of “shouldn’t you be telling us the answer to that question?” Councilman Lavelle was at our table and I shared this comment with him. He responded that while he was not a housing expert (I had said we could benefit from housing experts to help us get more sophisticated) inclusionary zoning could be one route. The comment I put on the piece of paper I was given was that we could include language in the zoning of this special planning district (again, see prior post) that 30% of the housing in the Lower Hill must be affordable. This was one of the comments that was shared when our table’s comments were reported out to the rest of the room, but this information is well-known to both the CDC and Councilman as it is benchmark in the Master Plan, a rallying cry of the Hill District Consensus Group (of which my wife is co-director and I am an active member) and something I have raised as a member of the Hill CDC’s sub-committee on the Lower Hill’s PLDP. I have asked our CDC and Councilman why the PLDP cannot “simply” include the specific benchmarks that are already in the Greater Hill District Master Plan in the form of anti-displacement strategies and its benchmarks of 30% affordable housing and 20% businesses led by Hill District residents, but so far have not gotten an answer and may try and follow up. There is a Lower Hill District Working Group that is meeting with the Penguins 1-2 times a week where discussions are being held but the content, nature or goal  of those meetings has not been given much explanation  in any of the meetings I have attended. My wife, Bonnie, was a part of this group but as an individual and not as a member of the Consensus Group and when Councilman Lavelle communicated that the Lower Hill meetings were not public at that stage, she declined to participate further. Monday’s meeting closed with nominations of community members to serve on the working group, so maybe there will be greater public communications at that point as to what is happening in these discussions as they relate to the PLDP process and the benchmarks around such issues as housing that are in the Greater Hill District Master Plan. Interestingly, although no Penguins representative made any closing comments re: next steps, my sense is that they and their intentions for the Lower Hill had a very strong presence in the meeting. Maybe this is why the process feels to me like it is waddling.

The Lower Hill PLDP: “Sustainability” Narrowly, Insufficiently Defined

This post will probably only appeal to the folks with a real patience/interest in Hill District/community planning issues because these issues are framed in such arcane ways by our city government and planning leaders, but here goes anyway. The Preliminary Land Development Plan for the Lower Hill District has yet to be submitted to the Planning Commission but, according to information shared at an April meeting convened by the Hill District Community Development Corporation and Councilman Daniel Lavelle, this plan will be submitted  by the Sports and Exhibition Authority and Penguins to the Planning Commission towards the end of June. According to the URA’s website, a PLDP is “a master plan for specially planned districts (SP) and includes details for infrastructure, development patterns, landscape design,  architectural details and is accompanied by updated zoning text that is specific to the SP District.” Herein lies a good bit of the problem. The definition of the PLDP focuses almost entirely on the physical repercussions of a new development and ignores its social, economic and cultural dimensions. Essentially, the idea of a PLDP has much more to do with the interests of developers and parties who are comfortable with and/or resigned to the current social/economic/cultural arrangements such that they are ok with a focus solely on such physical questions as streetscapes, building heights, water management etc. Thus, not surprisingly, the PLDP is largely focused on thinking through environmental issues such as the management of storm water issues, but does not address the issues most of concern to Hill District residents i.e. how will this development, built on land unjustly taken by the URA decades ago and then unjustly given to the Penguins just years ago, benefit the community socially, economically and culturally. Actually, this does not seem to be completely ok even by the PLDP’s own definition since it is a plan for a “Specially Planned DIstrict” (SPD) and these are to consider the development not only of the immediate site, but the border neighborhoods as well.

The URA and this PLDP place a great deal of emphasis on the “sustainability” of the SPD, but the plan defines this term narrowly and does not think about the notion in the context of border neighborhoods. In the introduction of the plan,  sustainability is defined as 10 elements that are cited as coming from a book titled “Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World”. However this definition of sustainability applies essentially to ideas on sustaining the planet, such as  the first principle: “Low Energy Performance-Achieved by making use of natural ventilation” and does  not specifically consider the sustainability of the Hill District as an adjoining neighborhood.  Relatedly, the definition only thinks about the environmental aspects of sustainability while remaining silent on the economic and social justice/fairness aspects of it. I explain more about what I mean by this in the attached memo below. In contrast, one can infer from the Greater Hill District Master Plan’s  5 principles that the community saw sustainability as having five components:

  1. Build Upon The African American Cultural Legacy
  2. Family Friendly Housing Without Displacement
  3. Economic Empowerment and Commercial Development
  4. Make the Hill District a Green and Well Designed Community
  5. Mobility, Transportation and Parking

My layman’s read of the plan is that even if it does not think about these issues in sustainability terms, and misses the chance to actually use the 5 principle framework that was approved in the Hill District Master Planning process, it includes extensive ideas on almost all the principles except as they relate to building upon the AA cultural legacy and economic empowerment. However, these are the critical issues as they relate to the sustainability of the Greater Hill District, and thus is a major shortcoming and a departure from the Master Plan to which the Hill District Community Benefits Agreement says must be adhere.

I have shared these ideas at greater length with the Hill District Community Development Corp.’s subcommittee on the PLDP, as a result of a request for written feedback from committee participants and you can see them here in a memo titled Laing Memo on PLDP revised. It references an article which talks of the many dimensions of “sustainability” and was sent to Councilman Daniel Lavelle and Hill CDC Executive Director, Marimba Milliones. To date, I have not received a specific response to this document, but from a document shared at the most recent Hill District Consensus Group meeting (of which my wife is co-director and I am a member),  it is clear that the Hill CDC is talking with the Penguins on such things as jobs and housing, but the document lacks the specific benchmarks included in the Master Plan such as 30% affordable housing in the Lower Hill that will be needed to make it enforceable.

The Hill CDC will be holding a meeting for community members on June 24th to discuss a formal response to the PLDP and the stance it will take as the PLDP goes to City Planning for approval. So, more to see on this front. The larger issue, however, is the need for public policy that has thought about sustainability in its totality and gives benchmarks for tangible benefits to come back to neighboring communities when the development needs the support and protection of our citizen funded government as is the case in SPD’s. This is particularly important when the developer is benefiting from the kind of government malfeasance that allowed the Lower Hill and its residents and businesses to be displaced in the 50’s and 60’s.

The Mayoral Election + Race + Hill District = Jack Wagner?

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you…Interesting tweets a week ago Friday night as Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto was on a Hill District bar crawl going to the Flamingo and Ace’s Deuce’s. So, clearly it’s Hill District voters he’s courting, but it’s also a move for African American voters. One of the tweets reference my man, Rep. Ed Gainey , the African American state rep from the East End, and you can click here for Rep. Gainey’s comments on Peduto as the candidate for the African American community. The idea of a collective Pittsburgh African American interest is  being heard clearly in this Democratic Party Mayoral Primary, which is striking when we think about the race narratives of the national election just 6 months ago where President Obama and the Democratic Party downplayed race, a strategy presumably supported by the local Democratic Party members involved in this election. Pittsburgh does need a serious conversation about racism and racial disparities, but it’s hard to see, without intervention from anti-racism folks, that this conversation continues within the Democratic Party once the race conversation has served its purpose i.e. mobilizing votes in the Mayoral election.

As Pittsburgh’s oldest predominantly African American neighborhood, the Hill District has been a major contributor to this election race’s narrative  First, and primarily, there is the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention (PBPC), a group whose goal is “to unite the black vote behind the candidacy of a single candidate for mayor in the 2013 Primary Election” and led by the Hill District’s former City Councilman, Mr. Sala Udin,  endorsing the Hill District’s State Representative Jake Wheatley.  But there was also an editorial in the Pittsburgh Courier, printed in the City Paper as “the mayoral race: a black perspective“, by the minister of the Hill District’s Monumental Baptist Church, Rev. Thomas Smith, who was writing as a member of the Western PA Black Political Assembly (WPBPA). This letter shares an analysis that seems to point to Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto as the best of imperfect options, but talks about the difficult place for Black folks in this election. And there is Councilman Bill Robinson, the African American County Councilman from the Hill who is explicitly endorsing Bill Peduto and who one would imagine is a part of Peduto’s campaign to connect to Hill District and African American voters.

Clearly, African American voters are critical to this election, but if you needed further evidence of this you would only need look at last week’s big mayoral campaign story, the attack ad against Bill Peduto.  This ad, paid for by  The Committee for a Better Pittsburgh and chaired by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, positions Bill Peduto as not being supportive of a number of African American neighborhoods.   This ad is apparently the first of many that will come from the mayor’s group in attempt to show “the real Bill Peduto“, but that its first choice is to focus on the African American vote is telling. So, the PBPC is supporting Rep. Wheatley and Councilman Peduto is working for support from African American voters, where is Jack Wagner’s campaign in relation to the race conversation?

Despite the fact that Jack Wagner received the fewest votes of Democratic Party candidates participating in the PBPC process, it may turn out that it helps get him elected. The PBPC endorsement process itself is worth looking at to see this possibility. Even though the Wheatley victory in the PBPC process produced the result most assumed it would, it’s useful to look at it as a microcosm of Black voter sentiment in this election. After Wheatley’s 112 votes, Bill Peduto won 72 votes compared Wagner’s 29.  So, if we can assume Peduto is preferable to African American votes over Wagner then what happens if African American voters turn out in serious numbers for Wheatley? Well, African American voters cease to be in play between Wagner and Peduto and it becomes a “whites mainly” election (note: there are a variety of social, class, and geographic differences  among whites that deserve attention as to their impact on this election)  between these two candidates which favors Wagner.  Why so? If we use the PBPC process as even a rough estimate of African American voter desire,  Peduto clearly had more support from African American voters than Wagner. Thus every African American vote for Wheatley is essentially  a vote that would more likely have gone to Peduto than Wagner, and thus votes for Wheatley are also a boon for Wagner. In effect, and I oversimplify a bit to make a point, this leaves Peduto with a two front war: Wheatley and African American voters on one side and Wagner and white voters on the other. Meanwhile, Wagner can focus principally on Peduto and white voters. Wheatley will likely also attract some liberal whites, which also comes out of Peduto’s end.

But the $64,000 question is does the Wheatley Campaign or Mr. Udin, as the convener of the PBPC, have their own Hill dog in the Peduto v. Wagner fight we are seeing play out everyday?  I would think so.  As anyone participating in or watching Hill District civic life knows, Wheatley and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle are  allies. Both worked for former Councilman Udin, both serve on the  Greater Hill District Development Growth Fund, and both are active supporters of the Hill District Community Development Corp of which Mr. Udin is a longstanding board member. Add to this that Peduto and Daniel Lavelle are known not to be supportive of one another or even on speaking terms and a Peduto win could well diminish Lavelle’s current authority and capacity to impact the Hill District through support of the Hill District CDC since, as Mayor, Peduto would be unlikely to keep Lavelle as Vice-Chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.  This is turn would affect the plans for the Lower Hill’s 28 acres; a process being led by Lavelle and the Hill CDC. This potential creates its own separate set of political incentives.

So, could the candidacy of a Hill District based African American candidate and a process led by long-term Hill District political activist play an important role in helping to elect Jack Wagner, the man who received the fewest votes of the Democrats participating in the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention? Again, I think so. I will vote for Bill Peduto. I like the creativity and policy wonkishness he shows in his 100 position papers , one of which is about his support of the Dollar a Car Campaign, an effort being led by the Hill District Consensus Group of which my wife is co-director and I am also a member.  However, of these 100 papers I do not see one with a focus on the  general issue of racism, which has negatively impacted the Hill District for centuries. Rather there are couple focused on diversity initiatives, so I won’t delude myself about the kind of leadership Peduto will provide on the systemic issue of racism facing this city.  Still, when I went to see a Mayoral debate a few weeks ago, Wagner seemed completely absent of ideas on African American neighborhoods, like the Hill, was clueless about the ban the box movement, and, his support from organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t suggest he will be first or second out the gate to be forthright on the issue of police brutality, still a serious Pittsburgh issue, particularly for African American men and boys. Interestingly, Wagner might be Ravenstahl all grown up, a more well spoken, professional version of a man who will do business as usual. Pittsburgh needs some shaking up, and that includes the Hill.

Wanted: Play Space For Children and Families

A week ago, children in tow, I passed out flyers on Wylie Ave getting a sense of and encouraging interest in a play space around Wylie Ave. This was the next step after our November, fledgling, 3 resident, block club meeting (see my earlier post “You Can Find Me in Da Club…the Block Club” for background) at which we discussed the lack of neighborhood play spaces and the possibility of the land that sits behind Wylie (actually Humbert) and is between Duff and Chauncey as a great play space for kids. In the couple of hours I spent door knocking last weekend, I heard that others are experiencing weekends with children at home in front of the computer or tv because of the shortage of play outlets in walking distance/eyesight. The good news is that the section of land in which we are interested is designated to be a park in the Hill District Master Plan (see page 106 & 107 of the plan on the Chauncey Street Steps) but a potential problem is that our Hill District Community Development Corporation (CDC) is planning to study this land for its feasibility to hold housing. We’ll be meeting with the CDC in part to get an understanding of how they interpret the master plan to even allow for the consideration of housing in this space.

Don’t get me wrong, we really do need more people and families in this section of the Hill. However, there is one brand new house on Wylie that has not been sold in the two years we have lived on this street and that’s a commentary on the neighborhood’s perceived livability. What needs greater attention is how to improve the neighborhood for the families, couples and people who are living here now. Case in point, while door knocking I spoke to a woman who is leaving the street in January because her family’s basement floods every time there is significant rainfall…

We will have another block club meeting in January and involve our children in the conversation about a park and how this neighborhood could become a better place for children and youth. A conversation probably needed Hill District wide.