The Pittsburgh Land Bank continues to be an important issue for PCRG and its member organizations as it moves ever closer to becoming fully operational. On October 12, 13, and 14, PCRG members participated in discussions concerning their priorities for the Land Bank and expectations for an inclusive community input process around the Policies and Procedures. The discussions were well-attended and reaffirmed the core issues that are important to our community organizations. Some of the priorities members wished to see included in the land bank were: transparency and accountability, priority access to vacant property for approved community groups, responsiveness to community plans and development priorities, and opportunities for permanently affordable housing, green-space, and workforce development. PCRG staff are summarizing topics discussed at those three meetings, and will release a memo to members next week.
At the most recent Land Bank Board of Directors meeting held on Friday, October 14, the Communications Committee reported back that they are committed to and desire a thorough and inclusive community outreach process to obtain input into the Land Bank Policies and Procedures. They further stated the importance of consistent and continuing community engagement between the Land Bank and the public, recommending that a Community Advisory Committee be established to inform ongoing engagement and communications activity. The committee also announced that they had completed a draft Request for Proposals to solicit a consultant to manage the legislated five community meetings around the Draft Policies and Procedures. The RFP will be released shortly and posted for two weeks. Rev. Burgess, as Board Chair, requested that the Communications Committee have reviewed all proposals and have a recommendation for selection of the consultant at next month’s board meeting. He also requested and confirmed that the Draft Policies and Procedures will have been provided to the Board by the November board meeting as well.
The Land Bank is a critical tool needed to overcome the blight and vacancy that many of our communities continue to struggle with. Much work has been invested in creating the Land Bank, and we are very close. In order to ensure a positive outcome, we encourage continued engagement with the development of the Policies and Procedures that will guide the operation of the Pittsburgh Land Bank.
For more information about the Pittsburgh Land Bank, see the following resources:
1. Organization: Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation
2. Founding Date: 2008
3. Executive Director: Tracey Evans Board President: Bernie Wetzel
4. Current Staff Size and Composition: Four full time staff members, one part time staff member
5. Geographic Area Served: The Borough of Wilkinsburg
6. Mission Statement: To promote the revitalization of Wilkinsburg through business & residential development; organizational & individual civic leadership; and ethnic & cultural diversity.
7. What is one project or program that you are really excited about?
Our big project right now is the revitalization of the Wilkinsburg Train Station. Our fundraising goal is to raise $3 million by the end of the year. We just kicked off our public fundraising campaign on October 6th where we began asking community members and community businesses to donate to the project. We currently are around $2.5 million, so things are going really well! Lots of community members have expressed interest in getting involved especially because the train station is in the middle of the business district and has been vacant for about 40 years. The goal is to get the station up to code and then next year we will look at a tenet strategy to try to find a business that is a best fit for the location and the community.
8. What are some of the corporation’s recent accomplishments?
We were incorporated in 2008 but didn’t have an office until 2010 and since then we have had a lot of success in all of our programs. We have had 57 business districts sold, 22 vacant store fronts filled, 267 residents have received small business training (that only just started last year), 31 new businesses have located themselves in Wilkinsburg, and 2,091 youths are/have been supported through our youth programs.
9. Tell us what you love about your neighborhood. What is your neighborhood’s best kept secret?
The business district is pretty great with many large and historic buildings and homes. Additionally, Wilkinsburg is the home of a large artist community especially because living here is fairly affordable and houses are big enough to have home studios in them. A couple of artists have opened up businesses which is definitely a really cool addition to the historic business district. There are also many generational businesses still in operation, for example, Nancy’s Diner has been open in Wilkinsburg for over 30 years!
10. What is a business in your neighborhood that partners with your organization for events, or has in the past? How has it helped you?
We partner with a lot of the businesses in Wilkinsburg for all of our events throughout the year. Most significantly, we had a liquor license referendum in 2015 and put a question on the ballot about whether or not businesses should be allowed to obtain licenses and 61% of the community voted “yes”. For this, Salvatore’s Pizza was a really big supporter because they wanted to get a licence which helped us a lot to have local businesses supporting our goal.
11. What is an interesting fact about your corporation or its history?
Wilkinsburg was a dry community because historically it has been a very religious community. It used to be called the city of churches because in our very small location we have 32 churches, most of which are still occupied and used for some purpose.
12. What are some of your upcoming events?
This fall, we’re asking community members to host house parties and other fundraising events to raise money for the train station renovation, so that will be a continuing event throughout the end of the year. Additionally, our holiday party this year is on December 8th!
13. Contact Information:
This past May, Mayor Peduto’s Affordable Housing Task Force published their findings and recommendations for how we can best retain and create housing within reach of low- and middle-income Pittsburghers. Their very first suggestion was the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, now known as the Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF). The HOF would be a pool of money, overseen by a governing and advisory board, which would create new affordable housing in city limits, as well as fund the rehabilitation of preexisting structures. The HOF, like all things, takes money, and the city has set $10 million per year as the initial funding goal. Which method or combination of methods the city should select to fund the HOF remains to be seen.
One measure under consideration is asking for a 1% increase in the city’s realty transfer tax. This would give the City of Pittsburgh the highest realty transfer tax in the country, at 5%. For example, a home being sold in Larimer for $60,000 would incur $3,000 in transfer taxes; without the increase it would incur only $2,400. Although the transfer tax is customarily split between the buyer and seller in Pennsylvania, it is still a disproportionate burden on lower-income residents.
And this is what is at the heart of reservations about a transfer tax increase: its regressive nature. A 5% realty transfer tax will take a larger share of a low- or middle-income Pittsburgher’s income than it would a wealthier one. There are mortgages that allow borrowers to lump in their closing costs, but it comes with a higher interest rate, resulting in the borrower paying far more in the long run than the initial amount of the transfer tax. PCRG and its members support strengthening communities through homeownership, and a higher transfer tax would cut directly into low- and middle-income folks’ abilities to stay in and improve their homes.
In addition to its potential regressiveness, there are other questions surrounding the efficacy of an increase in the transfer tax, including its volatility (what if our real estate market cools?), the narrowness of the tax base (around 8% of people buy a home each year in the city, making it a relatively small pool of residents contributing to the goal of affordable housing), and the potential it has to further push homebuyers and businesses into municipalities with lower tax burdens. However, if the market for homes remains steady in Pittsburgh, a 1% increase in the realty transfer tax would provide the HOF with the $10 million a year it needs.
Another option on the table is a small increase in property taxes across the city. This has the benefit of drawing revenue from a larger base. After all, we would like to think all Pittsburghers benefit when the city is affordable for everyone. But raising property taxes would not go unnoticed by residents, and could prove politically unpopular, if not unfeasible.
PCRG has heard from our members loud and clear that they do support the establishment of the HOF. However, our membership continues to grapple with how to best capitalize this fund in a responsible, self-sustaining fashion. At this point, PCRG has taken no stance on which sources of funding are the best and least burdensome to lower-income taxpayers, though we will continue to provide our members with research and analysis.
We’re excited to share the news of several new businesses opening in Sharpsburg, including Dancing Gnome Brewery, Art in Motion Dance Studio, The Young in You Salon, and the Body Soul Wellness Center. Next time you venture into the small town along the Allegheny River, be sure to check them all out.
More information on the newest businesses in Sharpsburg:
PCRG has invested in Sharpsburg since 2015 through its Reimagining Communities Initiative (RCI). Recognizing the important role economic development plays when it comes to neighborhood stabilization, PCRG is excited to see these business investments across the main business corridor. These new businesses attract new residents and stakeholders and highlight the positive change happening throughout the community. RCI in Sharpsburg is supported through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program.
Every eighteen months, the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference takes place in different American city. On September 28-30, over 1,000 community development professionals gathered in Baltimore to attend this year’s conference. PCRG staff attended RVP 2016 to learn more about vacant properties and network with community development professionals from around the country. Sessions on land banks, code enforcement, community land trusts, and other relevant topics provided opportunities for staff to engage with the work being done by other communities facing similar issues around vacancy and abandonment. A mobile tour of properties reclaimed by nonprofits in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore provided an opportunity to engage directly with the redevelopment of a specific neighborhood. Keynotes from speakers like Congressman Dan Kildee, author and Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond, regional arts nonprofit New Lens, and more provided additional forums for learning.
PCRG members were also well represented at the conference. Staff from East Liberty Development, Inc; GTECH Strategies; Hilltop Alliance, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; Hill Community Development Corporation; and Operation Better Block attended the conference. Staff from member organizations were also represented as speakers on sessions addressing their work with Lots to Love , data collection about properties in Homewood, and the Vacant Homes Tour. Gavin White, from GTECH Strategies, recently reflected on the idea of growth presented at the conference in a post on the GTECH Strategies blog: “Ultimately, it’s how growth happens that matters. Is it growth that includes others? Is it growth that we can all share in? Or is it simply growth without caring?”
Hosted by the Center for Community Progress, Reclaiming Vacant Properties is a national conference that presents groundbreaking ideas for solving problems related to vacancy, abandonment, and blight. The Center for Community Progress (CCP), a national nonprofit focused on eliminating systemic vacancy and abandonment in American communities, has a long history of partnering with PCRG and other Pittsburgh community development stakeholders. In addition to valuable technical assistance on a number of occasions, CCP’s President and CEO, Tamar Shapiro, spoke at PCRG’s Community Development Summit in 2015. For more about the conference, visit Next City’s coverage of Reclaiming Vacant Properties.
Many people have been thrown off after hearing that Pittsburgh’s upcoming Transportation Camp is being held in an “unconference” style. Most traditional conferences are composed of breakout sessions, panels, keynote speakers, and planned events throughout the day. So what is an “unconference”? In the “unconference” style, people attending will dictate what topics are discussed and create sessions based off of each person’s own interests, using analog crowdsourcing. Using this style, there are endless opportunities for each and every participant to get involved and help shape the future of transportation in the Pittsburgh region.
Whether you’re a politician, planner, practitioner, engineer, thinker, scientist, student, or just interested in learning more, this is an event for you. Come out to Transportation Camp, on Saturday November 19th, to participate in conversations about improving Pittsburgh’s regional transportation system and its future. This is an opportunity to mingle with people from all backgrounds and find others, who share similar interests — discuss big projects or small scale projects, bike infrastructure improvements to transportation demand management strategies, or an idea for a new, innovative app.
Interested in the event and want to learn more? Visit http://transportationcamp.org/events/pgh-2016/ to find out additional details and updates. Don’t forget to register at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/transportation-camp-pittsburgh-2016-tickets-26750108294. We hope to see you there!
Thursday, October 20th
[1435 Bedford Ave, Suite 132B]
Thursday, November 3rd
12 – 2:30 PM
Vacant Property Working Group Meeting
Thursday, November 10th
Pittsburgh Transportation Camp
Saturday, November 19th
8 AM – 5 PM
[CMU, Porter Hall]
Dates To Be Announced
Midtier Bankers Collaborative Council Meeting
Community Bankers Collaborative Council Meeting
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.