For the next few months, we will be introducing the PCRG community to our latest AmeriCorps VISTAs. Get to know our cohort as each member will be featured on our blog and in our newsletter!
New Sun Rising
I have lived in Pennsylvania pretty much my whole life and grew up in a small town called Spring Mills that probably has nearly as many cows as people. My coworker and I recently tried to find my house on google maps and it’s not there so that gives you an idea of how rural it is. I love traveling and studied abroad in Gambia, Brussels, Belgium, and Sevilla, Spain during my time at Juniata College. At college, I studied International Politics and Conflict Resolution. I also enjoy hiking and just being outside in general, so I’m exited for the warm weather to get here (and stay)!
I really like the way that VISTA goes about its mission of fighting poverty by having VISTAs focus on building capacity of the organization they serve in. As a VISTA, I feel that I am able to create sustainable and impactful change through the work that I am doing because instead of personally reaching a few people I am helping New Sun Rising to expand their reach and impact to many people. Being offered a position with NSR sealed the deal because I could tell right away that they had a very community-minded focus and were concerned with supporting not just economic development, but also equitable development.
My goals are to build New Sun Rising’s capacity so that they can deepen their impact in the Pittsburgh region while also building my own capacity by developing skills and experience in areas like grantwriting, program monitoring and evaluation, reporting, and mentoring, which will be useful in any future position I take on. I also want to learn more about the nonprofit world in general and how an organization can operate sustainably and effectively.
Right now, I am helping to support our Launch Wilkinsburg business incubation program which just started last month. I am also planning three Wilkinsburg Equity Cafe workshops, which are our adaptation of the World Cafe model – a process of collaborative dialogue designed to bring people together to focus on specific issues faced by their community. The goal is to help community members to construct a more equitable Wilkinsburg by discovering Wilkinsburg’s strengths, dreaming of what could be in the future, and figuring out how to put those dreams into action. We also just finished up a pilot of Welcome Mart, which is a business incubation program for immigrants and refugees. I am currently working on the budget and program outline and researching funding opportunities so that Welcome Mart can become an established program.
After VISTA I will have a couple of weeks to hang out with my parents and two younger sisters and then I will be off to the Dominican Republic for two years to serve as a Youth Development Volunteer in the Peace Corps. (If I manage to get all of the medical clearance paperwork filled out in time!)
Since our founding, PCRG has held an annual awards luncheon to recognize the work of our financial partners. Over time, that modest luncheon has grown into a full two-day conference with nationally recognized keynote speakers, innovative session presenters, and attendees from across the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions. However, the main event of our Summit remains the same: an awards ceremony to recognize leadership in community development over the past year.
Community development at its best is achieved by a coalition of disparate stakeholders. From the financial partners who fund the work to those who develop and implement innovative programs, and to on-the-ground community activists, we recognize the contribution made by leaders at all levels. Each year, we present banking awards, community development project awards, and neighborhood leader awards. Our banking awards are determined based on data and discussion with community groups funded by community development banking. But we need your help to decide what projects, programs, and leaders should be recognized for their outstanding work in Pittsburgh and the region.
Community Development Awards pay tribute to projects and programs that have produced revitalization in the physical, social, and cultural fabric of communities in the greater Pittsburgh region. Notable winners include projects that improve the social and cultural fabric of communities, like Hosanna Industries’ Learn While You Earn program, as well as projects that improve physical spaces in communities, like Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s redevelopment of Hamnet Place. Last year, New Voices Pittsburgh and Bridgeway Capital were recognized for their achievements in this category. Based on nominations, PCRG may grant this award to up to four projects or programs. Visit our Summit website to read more about the award and to submit your nominations.
Each year’s Neighborhood Leader Award is selected by PCRG and the family of the Bob O’Connor to honor an individual who exemplifies the late mayor’s commitment to neighborhood improvement. Individuals considered for this award are typically those who have significantly impacted their neighborhoods and communities over a long period of time. Awardees are often volunteers, members of Board of Directors, and are deeply engaged in civic leadership. Notable winners include Betty Lane, recognized for her work in Larimer, and James Simon, one of the founding board members of Uptown Partners. Last year, the Neighborhood Leader Award was given to Lauren Byrne Connelly, former Executive Director of Lawrenceville United and an active leader in Pittsburgh civic life. Visit our Summit website to read more about the award and to submit neighborhood leaders you believe deserve recognition.
Award nominations are due on April 14th, so submit your nomination today!
Over the past few weeks, the first conservatorship cases within the City of Pittsburgh have been completed. In January 2017, more than forty-five cases were pending in the Pittsburgh court system. Filed by individuals and nonprofits from the West End to the North Side and the East End, cases addressed properties from vacant lots and abandoned homes to the former St. Peter and Paul Church building. In February and March, the first completed conservatorship properties were sold to end-users, marking the end of court cases originally filed as early as 2014.
On February 16, 2017, PCRG staff were present at the closing of a conservatorship petition filed by Renee Rosensteel and Bill O’Driscoll, a married couple living in a rehabbed house in the neighborhood of Manchester. Rosensteel and O’Driscoll originally filed the case after speaking with Bethany Davidson, then a PCRG staff member, about the property behind their home. The house behind their home was abandoned and decaying, unsecured to the public, and had bricks falling near their cars. The couple also discovered evidence of drug use and multiple kinds of bullets on the propert. “We were really frustrated with it, and we wanted to make it not a problem anymore,” Rosensteel said. Other methods of securing the property were considered, but were unlikely to work due to the house’s tangled title, a common problem with vacant and abandoned houses in Pittsburgh.
Rosensteel and O’Driscoll faced a number of obstacles, including both the usual problems faced renovating an older house as well as obstacles unique to conservatorship. These included pushback from the City of Pittsburgh legal department regarding forgiveness of back taxes, financing challenges, the expense of procuring insurance, and their status as among the first to pioneer a new legal process in Pittsburgh. Without conservatorship, Rosensteel said, it was “pretty obvious that [the house] would fall into a degree of disrepair that it would have to be torn down.” While they knew that since the process hadn’t been tested there would be “bumps and hiccups along the way,” the couple did not expect to spend as much time and money as they did. Rosensteel described conservatorship as “not for the faint of heart”, but worth it.
With the assistance of Manchester Citizens Corporation, their attorney Keirsten Lane of DeMarco & Negle, and many others, Rosensteel and O’Driscoll were finally awarded the house they had put so much time and effort into securing and renovating. Once the deed is finalized and renovations are complete, the couple plan to convert the first floor into an AirB&B and rent the second floor as an apartment.
PCRG staff have advocated for conservatorship legislation at the state level. PCRG staff also encouraged homeowners from Sheraden to submit the first two conservatorship cases filed in Pittsburgh. On behalf of PCRG, residents, and other nonprofit corporations, attorney Wayne Cobb has filed a large number of cases; some cases have already closed, and many more are expected to close in the near future. With the completion of these initial cases, Pittsburgh is ready to move on to the next step.
Conservatorship has the potential to be an important tool for securing and renovating vacant and abandoned properties. In Pittsburgh, conservators currently face obstacles getting information about the process. Until February, no cases had closed in the Pittsburgh municipal courts. While excellent guides to the law are available from the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and Regional Housing Legal Services, both were published before any cases had closed. One of PCRG’s top priorities in 2017 will be better enabling community groups and residents to pursue conservatorship by sharing case studies of conservators, lessons learned, and best practices going forward. Stay tuned for more about this project!
1. Organization: Allegheny Land Trust
2. Founding Date: 1993
3. President & CEO: Chris Beichner
4. Current Staff Size: Full-time 9, Part-time 6
5. Geographic Area Served: Allegheny County, occasionally Washington County
6. Mission Statement: To serve as the lead land trust conserving and stewarding lands that support the scenic, recreational, and environmental well-being of communities in Allegheny County and its environs.
Talking with Roy Kryaynyk, Vice President of Land Protection & Capital Projects
7. What is one project or program that you are really excited about?
We’re excited about all of our programs! Land protection is one of our core missions and the stewardship department takes the land we acquire and enhances it. The education department then works with mainly kids and volunteers all over the region teaching them about stewardship and how to protect and care for their environment. Between those three sections of our organization there are a ton of projects.
I’m particularly excited about the protection of 80 acres of land along the Chartiers Creek called Wingfield Pines and the creation of a 20 acre passive water treatment system that purifies 1500 – 2000 gallons a minute of Abandoned Mine Drainage before it gets to the creek. It is all done through a natural process, no pumps or chemicals, and operated by gravity which makes it completely sustainable. The project was completed in 2009 and in addition to recovering iron oxide from the water, the system accommodates trails, a wetland boardwalk, overlooks, and interpretive signage providing educational opportunities. This project led to the first recorded sighting of the Virginia Rail bird in the region, something that is really special and we are really proud of. Its a really great place that I have been going to for years and each time I come back I find something new to fall in love with.
8. What are some of the corporation’s recent accomplishments?
In addition to smaller accomplishments, last year we closed on four new properties totaling over 130 acres of land. We also acquired two properties outside of Allegheny County in Washington County. The rationale for this decision is that water networks in Washington flow into Allegheny, so whatever happens upstream is going to affect the quality of life, land, and water in Allegheny County. We wanted to take the next step in protecting the environments in this region by working upstream as well.
9. Tell us what you love about your neighborhood.
While we operate throughout Allegheny County, our offices are located in the Sewickley neighborhood. Sewickley has a very Rockwellian feel, like it is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Its a very walking accessible neighborhood, we can walk to the theater, the coffee shops, restaurants, and other store fronts right from our office, and its really nice to be a part of that. The Sewickley community has been very supportive of our work and we are happy to be able to work in such a great place.
10. Have you partnered with other organizations for events or projects in the past? How has is helped you?
Almost every project that we do involves some other organization as well. Sometimes we partner with other organizations to accomplish a project or we have volunteers from organizations throughout the region helping us complete the projects, either way, the work we do is accomplished by working with other groups. In the past we have partnered with organizations like Allegheny Clean Ways and Venture Outdoors and have had volunteers from the local universities and organizations like Google and some corporate companies assisting on the ground.
11. What is an interesting fact about your corporation or its history?
I’m really proud of the fact that we protect over 2,100 acres of land all over Allegheny County.
12. What are some upcoming events?
We have tons of events stemming from education information sessions to guided trail walks and hikes. Our events are listed on our monthly calendar online and I encourage anyone who is interested to browse the events and attend as many as they can!
13. Contact Information
The disposition of land in our neighborhoods should be an important issue to every Pittsburgh resident. Land is a finite resource, and the Pittsburgh Land Bank has the potential to unlock currently vacant land and be a tool to revitalize currently abandoned houses. However, it’s important for the public as individuals and as groups to be involved in the decision-making process as we debate who controls Pittsburgh’s land.
Last month, the Pittsburgh Land Bank released their long-awaited draft Policies and Procedures, a document that will determine how the PLB will operate. Before the Pittsburgh Land Bank can begin to operate, the Policies and Procedures must be presented to the public and approved by City Council and the Mayor. This provides a crucial opportunity for input into the formation of a new public authority that will have a dramatic impact on the land revitalization system in Pittsburgh.
Because the Policies and Procedures will determine how PCRG members will interact with the Pittsburgh Land Bank, PCRG convened a meeting of members to discuss the document. Attendees raised concerns about the ability of community groups and organizations to access the process, and whether the Pittsburgh Land Bank will take community priorities into account when making decisions about the disposition of land. In addition, attendees discussed the accountability of Pittsburgh Land Bank staff and Board of Directors. PCRG staff plan to create a formal response to the document, summarizing concerns in a document that will be approved by the PCRG board and presented to the Land Bank. PCRG members with additional feedback should contact Alyssa Lyon and Chris Sandvig.
PCRG staff encourage all Pittsburgh residents, activists, community groups, and businesses to read through the Policies and Procedures, and to give feedback by attending a community meeting or using the online form. To register for a community meeting, visit the Pittsburgh Land Bank page. Community meetings will be held on the following dates and locations:
WEST: Monday, March 13, 2017 from 6:30 to 8 PM at the West End Senior Center,
80 Wabash St. Pgh, PA 15220
SOUTH: Monday, March 20th from 6:30 PM to 8 PM at St. Paul AME Church,
400 Orchard Pl, Pittsburgh, PA 15210
CENTRAL: Saturday, March 25th from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM at Jeron X. Grayson Community Center
1852 Enoch Street Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Childcare will provided for ages 2 and up.
EAST: Monday, March 27th from 6:30 PM to 8 PM at the Kingsley Association,
6435 Frankstown Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
NORTH: Tuesday, April 4th from 6:30 PM to 8 PM
at the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 84,
841 California Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Childcare will provided for ages 2 and up.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, a longstanding program operated by HUD, continues to be a primary source of support for the City of Pittsburgh and its community organizations in 2017. This year’s capital budget, which can be viewed in its entirety here, receives 17% ($12.5 million) of its total funds from the CDBG program. While that is not the bulk of the budget, it is absolutely crucial for the city government offices that work to create and preserve housing, repair infrastructure, and provide employment opportunities.
Since a major cut at the federal level in 2014 that reduced that CDBG’s share of the budget from 25% to 18%, the funding level has remained essentially stable. The $12.5 million budgeted by the City for 2017 will be split among nine different offices and divisions within the government, including City Council, City Planning, Commission on Human Relations, the Mayor’s Office, Parks and Rec, Personnel and Civil Service Commission, Bureau of Operations, Bureau of Transportation and Engineering, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (please see the graph below for the specific amounts). The URA receives the largest amount (37%), followed by City Planning and the Bureau of Operations.
One major unknown facing our city are the potentially dramatic cuts coming to HUD in the federal budget. The Trump Administration and Sec. Ben Carson have proposed a $6 billion cut to their budget, $3 billion of which will be taken from the CDBG program. While we should hope for the best regarding the program’s stability and funding level, nothing is guaranteed. Currently, the City’s budget office is assuming a small reduction in CDBG money – from $12.5 million to $12 million – that will hold at that from 2018-2022. If Sec. Carson’s goals are met, this figure will drop dramatically, removing vital funding from the things that make this city livable – housing, green space, youth employment, safe infrastructure, and more. As advocates for community growth and development, it’s incumbent upon us to speak to those in power about just how vital the CDBG program is to American cities.
Recent HMDA Data Shows Growth in Lending In Allegheny County, But Persistent Racial Lending Gaps Remain
The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), which requires the majority of lending institutions in the United States to provide the federal government and the public with their yearly lending history, is now available. Because of the delay in the reporting and cleaning of the data, there is always a one year delay, meaning that 2015 is the most up-to-date mortgage lending information available. Allegheny County, which is the most racially and economically diverse county in the metropolitan area, continues to have significant disparities between who does and does not have access to capital.
If we compare 2015’s HMDA data to the prior year, it paints a picture of a thriving mortgage lending industry in Allegheny County. The total number of applications increased 28%, with an even more striking increase of 40% in home purchase loans specifically. The number of loans originated by banks in the County increased by nearly 13%, from just over 24,000 in 2014 to 27,300 in 2015. The total amount lent out by the banks increased in kind, from $3.89 billion in mortgage lending in 2014 to $4.24 billion. What these increases indicate is growing demand for home purchasing and refinance, but what is stimulating the demand is unlikely to be due to a single influence. Pittsburgh wages and unemployment remained fairly stable between those years, but other factors could be consumer confidence, improved bank outreach and/or lending products, and the supply and appeal of available housing stock.
One factor that failed to improve in 2015, and indeed, it hasn’t improved in over a decade, are the number of Blacks applying for and receiving loans. The 2015 HMDA data continued to reflect the realities of the wealth gap between Whites and Blacks in Western Pennsylvania. Of the $4.24 billion issued in mortgage loans in 2015, $117 million, or 2.75%, went to Black borrowers in our county. The Black origination rate, the percentage of Black loan applications that went on to be approved, was 46.9%; the rate for Whites was 63.3%.
One piece of good news for both White and Black borrowers is that the denial rate dropped significantly in the County, from 20% to 15.8% for Whites and from 43% to 31.6% for Blacks. What has remained the same is the proportion between the denial rates – the ratio of Black to White application denials has remained stubbornly at 2 to 1, a ratio that has barely changed in over a decade. While it is paramount that PCRG continue to call on banks to meet (and exceed) their CRA obligations regarding lending to minorities and LMI borrowers, we all must confront the persistence of Black poverty in Allegheny County. It is low wages, lack of access to good jobs, and credit history issues that exclude Black Pittsburghers from even applying, much less qualifying, to own a home of their own.
Figure 1: LMI Census Tracts Identified in Allegheny County
Figure 2: LMI Census Tracts Identified across the Pittsburgh Region
In the City of Pittsburgh and across the Pittsburgh region, there is a growing affordability crisis for many individuals and families seeking services, housing, amenities, and sufficient and reliable transportation. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Services (HUD), low income is defined as “a household whose income does not exceed 80% of the median income of the area with adjustments for smaller or larger families” and a low-and moderate-income person defined as “a member of a family having an income equal to or less than the Section-8 low-income limit established by HUD.” For additional context, in 2016, HUD defined the income range for one person qualifying for Section 8 at $39,990.
As of 2015, Allegheny County had an estimated population of over 1.2 million people, with approximately 80.7% of the population identified as white and 13.4% of the population identified as black. Most often, these LMI communities are also predominantly comprised of minorities, largely African Americans. In Allegheny County, there are 128 LMI census tracts out of a total of 402 census tracts (31.8%). Breaking this down further to look at the city vs. the county, there are 58 LMI tracts identified in the City of Pittsburgh (14.4%) and 70 LMI tracks identified in the county, outside of the Pittsburgh city border (17.4%). Comparing the City of Pittsburgh to Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh’s median household income is around $40,715 with approximately 22.9% of people living in poverty while Allegheny County’s median household income is around $53,040 with approximately 12.2% of people living in poverty.
One of the growing problems associated with LMI communities is generational poverty; in Allegheny County, on top of generational poverty, LMI communities frequently experience suburban poverty as property values and housing prices continue to soar in the city. As a result, there are a variety of challenges these individuals and families must face including food deserts, transportation deserts and limited reliable public transportation, human service deserts, lack of job availability, and access and opportunity for higher education. Will the next generation continue to face the same problems?
 These figures come from the Census data QuickFacts, using 2015/2016 data.
Summit Registration Opens
Monday, March 20
Thursday, April 6
12:00 – 2:30 PM
CARL Information Session
Wednesday, April 12
6:00 – 7:30 PM
9:00 – 10:30 AM
National Building Day with Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh
Saturday, April 29
9:00 – 1:00 PM
Wednesday May 24, Thursday May 25
[Omni William Penn]
For more information on this newsletter, please contact Brigid O’Hara, Member Engagement and Communications Coordinator, at bo’firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 391-6732 ext. 211.