Part I: Poverty in Homewood
A. Poverty and Unemployment
Homewood-Brushton has not always faced poverty. There was a time when it was a mixed-raced community, where there were many working-class citizens contributing to the well-being of the neighborhood. However, not until the 1950s did the demographics drastically differ. Approximately 8,000 residents from the Lower Hill District were displaced by eminent domain after the city claimed the area to build the Civic Arena. Many people relocated to Homewood, and this caused many upper- and working-class Whites to move away from the area. This led to a steady population decline over the years, as well as a more dense Black community. In the 1950s, the total population was approximately 30,235 and the Black community was roughly 25%. Ten years later, the total population declined by approximately 3,264 residents, but the Black community rose to 70%. These trends have continued, and in the latest 2010 Census Bureau, the total population of Homewood-Brushton has decreased to 6,442, where approximately 94% of the residents are Black.
Contrary to some, poverty definitely still exists in America, and it is quite prevalent in Homewood-Brushton. Each region of Homewood-Brushton varies in regards to poverty, where North is the worst, followed the South, then the West. Altogether, the population of persons below poverty level was approximately 42% between 2009 and 2013.
(U.S. vs. Homewood Unemployment rate in 2000)
A combination of factors affect poverty. Unemployment, income, and housing are just a few, but all become a struggle for families in these situations. Unemployment, in particular, makes it very difficult to sustain a steady income and have affordable housing. In 2000, of the 4,124 women who were 16 years and older in the labor force, 8.9% were unemployed. In comparison to the national average at 4.0%, the unemployment rate was 4.9% higher in Homewood-Brushton. However, for those who were employed, income for the North, West, and South was $19,465 for males and $14,394 for females during 2000. These values minutely increased between 2009 and 2013, except in Homewood North, where there was actually a slight decrease for females and a major decrease for males. In turn, this low-income situation makes it a challenge for families to maintain affordable housing, where no more than 30% of income is devoted the expenses of housing and utilities. In 2013, the median family income for was $45,034 for the West, $43,636 for the South, and $13,893 for the North. Of the three regions in 2010, 31% of household owners or renters were not able to have affordable housing. All these factors of poverty expand even further, and are a serious issue for those living in Homewood-Brushton.
Unemployment, income, housing are just a few factors that exacerbate poverty. As they are all intertwined, each step towards uplifting one factors uplifts another. To improve Homewood-Brushton, many strategies toward urban renewal can be useful.
Establishing businesses that appeal to residents and forming a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) can bring forth economic development within the area. Currently, 1 in every 3 lots are vacant, so there is plenty of room for expansion in Homewood. Using the abundant land for new businesses can create jobs, particularly for the residents who live there through the support of a CBA. Welcoming business developers to make an agreement with community representatives to will allow for community residents to work for the new businesses. Numerous benefits such as funding for community organizations, recreational facilities, and space for small/local businesses is commonly associated with a CBA. Just as important, livable wages and affordable housing are also generally included in a CBA.
Creating more opportunity for the residents in Homewood-Brushton allows for a greater potential for the community to grow. Whereas residents would normally have to leave the Homewood-Brushton because of limited goods in the area, economic development can make items more accessible to the residents and even attract more people to the community.
By taking steps toward revitalizing the community, finding a solution for combating poverty within Homewood-Brushton is possible. Healthy redevelopment is necessary for creating sustainability and rejuvenating Homewood-Brushton’s sense and character of community.
Part II: Defining Urban Renewal and Successful Revitalization
A. Urban Renewal
The history of urban renewal is complex, and has gone through many definitions. It has not belonged to the people who are affected by it, and this is still a problem today. As part of Truman’s Fair Deal in 1949, the Fair Housing Act was supposed to create “a decent home and suitable living situation for every American family” – but it focused mostly on demolition, not revitalization, and led the groundwork for downtown corporate partners to be favored by the developers over the residential families. While this may seem disattached from the current situation in Pittsburgh, these actions are what directly facilitated public support of the Pittsburgh Renaissance, which displaced Hill District residents to Homewood and other areas without their consent.
What makes revitalization successful? Bright explains that revitalization indicates an improvement of quality of life, which also must be defined. She concludes that quality of life must take into account neighborhood safety, services, shelter, and social capital, with other necessities falling within these broad categories (6). Under safety, factors include rates of various types of crimes, death rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and exposure to environmental toxins. The “services” category encompasses dozens of factors within government, businesses, and social services, such as “age and size of water and sewer lines,” “number and types of entertainment facilities,” and educational facilities. Social capital describes factors such as the presence of both formal and informal networks between residents, access to political power, and regular contact with people of other races, incomes, ethnicities, and education.
The intentional gentrification approach is extreme; it seeks to improve the appearance of an area while indirectly causing high concentrations of poverty in other areas.
Is revival without gentrification possible? Naomi Carmon and Moshe Hill investigate this possibility using a successful case study in Israel. To achieve these results of revitalization without gentrification or relocation, Carmon and Hill focused on the following major areas of implementation: selling public housing units to tenants; exterior renovation; self-help expansions by owner occupants; programs targeted at the development of young children and school readiness; a Children’s Center for Art and Literature; a system designed by Tel Aviv University to give neighborhood children early exposure to computers; and securing strong political support.
C. Case Studies – What Do Successful Renewals Have in Common?
Looking at the case studies of revival of neighborhoods in Cleveland, Seattle, and Boston, I found that each focused on something different: Cleveland on land use, Seattle on local government, and Boston on community activism. That being said, there are several variables that they all had in common (Bright, ix):
- Allow area residents to take charge
- Provide adequate local government services
- Fully support resident-led initiatives
- Keep track of temporarily obsolete, abandoned, or derelict sites (TOADS) and streamline procedures for their reuse
- Pursue regional coordination
- Involve the private sector
- Insist on microplanning
- Be comprehensive
- Provide federal support
D. Homewood Data
Weighted averages of data for the census blocks encompassing Homewood (UCSUR n.p.):
- Those at or below the poverty line: 39%
- Average annual earning (males, females): $16,132, $16, 789
- Employment rate: 55%
- Home vacancies: 27%
Concluding my research on urban revival, I recommend that Homewood-Brushton and the City of Pittsburgh:
- Continue supporting the growth of local nonprofits, and see that these nonprofits find common ground in their visions for Homewood, whether that be through joint events or community panels. This is an area in which Homewood truly thrives, and building volunteer capacity in these organizations will draw more media and city attention to them, which will hopefully result in greater citywide monetary support.
- Partner with Pittsburgh’s universities. The University of Pittsburgh already has several community service days for surrounding neighborhoods like Homewood, but assigning students to participate in short-term work is not enough. Students must be given opportunities to partner with Homewood residents and neighborhood leaders to come up with ideas that can truly benefit them. Universities can award grants for the implementation of these projects on the foundation that they are sustainable.
- Continue encouraging short-term work in physical/infrastructure repair by partnering with organizations such as Pittsburgh Cares and Citiparks.
- Take advantage of its growing nonprofit presence in Pittsburgh by using the mental and artistic capital of its young people. Murals are an excellent way to draw attention to neighborhoods, especially in this age of the Internet and social media capabilities. Murals, gardens, and other similar projects are also examples of relatively low-cost endeavors that Homewood can do to show the City of Pittsburgh that it is a smart investment.
Part II: Businesses and Non-Profits
Part 1: Objective
The capital of a space goes well beyond the monetary sense. An area has its own personality that is heavily influenced by its people; perhaps more so than being shaped by landmarks and physical entities. As such, revitalization needs to start with understanding the feelings of the community instead of only looking at the “bottom-line” and spreadsheets. In order for successful entrepreneurial ventures to be integrated into the area it needs to be something that “fits in” with the values of the neighborhood. After establishing an idea of what would be desired in the space, then the economic analysis can take place. The regrowth of Homewood-Brushton should be seen as an empowerment of its people and a utilization of the latent capital.
Part 2: Background and Current Status
One of the most prominent obstacles to revitalization lies in the amount of vacancies in the area. Including land and structural vacancies, most of Homewood has the majority of its space vacated. As of March 2011, 44% of Homewood’s land was vacant (UCSUR). Most vacancies are seen in central Homewood and the Eastern portion of North Homewood; however, the vacant lots tend to break up the area and isolate local businesses. Moreover, 94% of all vacant structures have outstanding tax delinquencies from a year or longer (UCSUR). In some cases, these debts have amounted to twice the property value and inhibit development and remodeling. To establish a local primary business center, a utilization of these lots is needed as are possible additions including shops and educational centers. The total costs of lots will need to be evaluated in order to figure out the necessary funds to be obtained.
In order to establish a core business, it is necessary to take into account the financial resources of the residents. Based on 2005-2009 data, 45.7% of households in the area made less than $15,000. Given this and the high levels of vacancies, it may prove wise to establish a business that could address both problems simultaneously.
Homewood-Brushton is by no means an empty or vacated space. Homewood possess a considerable number of organizations, including the YMCA, Homewood Children’s Village, Operation: Better Block, Community Empowerment Association, Afro American Music Institute, Carnegie Library and more. The Homewood Bruston Business Association maintains and announces community events. In creating a business that can support or interact beneficially with these organizations, this allows for a strengthening in the community’s ties and the direct influence residents have over future development.
Part 3: Future Development
Following the development of East Liberty, we have seen a community undergo immense growth and expansion. Unfortunately, we have also seen the negative effects of gentrification and residential uprooting. However, using the redevelopment plan and the history of East Liberty as a guide, a similar path to revitalization can be made for Homewood-Brushton. Additionally, material from the revitalization of East Baltimore – a plan that focused on community benefits agreements and using the resources readily available – can be used as an additional source of inspiration and planning.
- 1999 East Liberty Redevelopment Plan
- 2010 East Liberty Redevelopment Plan
- East Baltimore Revitalization Plan
In establishing a center for community redevelopment, a solution for Homewood-Brushton would be to follow in East Liberty’s footsteps by creating a local hardware store and outline policies similar to Baltimore’s Economic Inclusion Plan. The Home Depot in East Liberty hired approximately 200 employees upon its opening and introducing a larger employer will aid in providing a strong start to revitalization. Introducing a larger business, not only can more residents receive jobs, they now have access to the tools to improve their own homes, vacant properties or old businesses. Another idea would be to introduce a large-scale grocery store given Homewood’s status as a “food desert.” The first major business following the Home Depot in East Liberty was the Whole Foods. This brought in competitors including Giant Eagle Market District and Trader Joe’s. Regardless of what industry is the preferred starting point, it will provide a catalytic environment for redevelopment. Afterward, in partnering with a community development organization, larger-scale revitalization can take place through repairs to older buildings or the construction of new ones.
This larger organization can act as a catalyst for growth by spurring what is known as “income substitution. (Jacobs 140).” This is where a community begins to produce the items or services it imports or leaves the area to obtain. The organic growth of small business enterprises may be too slow on its own. Additionally, having a larger corporation in place, adhering to Community Benefits Agreements and local Economic Inclusion Plans may prove to more readily attract a greater amount of funding for future projects. This is what we’ve seen in East Liberty while East Baltimore spent much time refining its community guidelines for incoming developmental corporations. Homewood-Brushton, with its current business sector and resources, would benefit from both of these core philosophies of past revitalization.
In particular, key steps in redevelopment include:
- Repaying any outstanding property debts
- Reducing the number of vacant lots
- Strong Community Benefits Agreements and access to entrepreneurial funding
- Creating governing boards or community contracts for redevelopment
- More prominent business networks across the Homewood space
- Increasing emphasis and advertisement of established organizations
- Professional educational centers and skills workshops
- Establishing affordable housing
Part III: Community Benefits Agreements
Part 1: Historical Context and Economic Divestment in Homewood-Brushton
The current economic condition in the neighborhood of Homewood-Brushton is one that has very much so been created by overtly and covertly racist policies meant to harm Black communities. Beginning after the Second World War, housing policies enacted by the Federal Housing Administration gave preferential treatment to Whites, as suburbs were being built all over the country, with loans only being available to White families. When Blacks were able to receive loans for houses, real estate agents would block bust- go into the neighborhoods where the Black family was moving in and buy houses from White families at low prices and then flip them to Black families at higher prices. This created many neighborhoods like Homewood-Brushton and the Hill District all over the country. As Whites moved out of the cities urban neighborhoods became almost exclusively Black, as they were not welcomed in the suburbs and the only affordable and public housing available was in the city.
Douglas Massey in his research study American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass constructs a hypothetical city based on average demographic composure and poverty levels per race of several large American cities. At the highest level of class and racial segregation, he estimates that the average neighborhood poverty level in poor black neighborhoods would be 40%, creating the most adverse effects among the community. As of a 2009 UCSUR community report on Homewood-Brushton reports that 94.4% of the population was Black and that the poverty rate was 45.5%, conditions even worse than those constructed by Massey. At rates this high, the community suffers with significantly higher rates of female headed households, houses boarded up, crime, childhood death, high school dropout rates among other negative effects. As these conditions were created in large part by the government, it is the Homewood communities feeling that the government should help economically rehabilitate the neighborhood. Collective Benefits Agreements have been utilized in many other struggling neighborhoods all over the country and should be considered in Homewood.
Part 2: Community Benefits Agreement
A Community Benefits Agreement or CBA is a community empowerment model, when a private developer negotiates a legally binding agreement with community representatives. Usually the agreement includes improvements in housing, employment options, and the creation of recreational and cultural facilities. The opportunity to construct a CBA usually comes after a developer announces a major project, in which case community leaders and groups approach the developer to make a proposal and attempt to begin deliberations. CBA’s have been utilized in many neighborhoods in California, as well as in NYC and even Pittsburgh among other communities to stimulate economic development. The model used in the Hill District can be replicated in Homewood, as the CBA was very successful in the Hill. The project cost $320 million and was financed for $500 million, and the community was able to get first source hiring as well as $2 million for a grocery store, which they had not had in the community since 1980. They also received $8.3 million for neighborhood improvement efforts, as well as a guarantee for the government to do a 2-year assessment of social services in the area. From the Penguins they received a 6-12 year guarantee worth up to $6 million to provide community and economic development, education and youth services, green spaces and drug and alcohol and mental health services.
What makes receiving a CBA in Homewood-Brushton more difficult is that there is no plan in place from a developer to start a major project in the area. Therefore it is important for a community coalition to be vocal in its desire to invite a project into its community, with the purpose of negotiating a CBA. A CBA seems to be the preferred empowerment tactic of the community as they have held multiple forums in the community to discuss CBA’s and the needs within the neighborhood. The most efficient route to take in order to receive a CBA might be to first conduct a Community and Economic Benefits Assessment outlining potential Economic, Employment, Housing, Community, Smart Growth, and Historical and Cultural Benefits. A report detailing the widespread economic benefit to the community may inspire private developers and government officials to begin considering a CBA in Homewood.
Part IV: Voices of Community Organizers
“I asked how many of the people up there [running the meeting] lived in the neighborhood. Not one. And then I asked, How can you say the residents are going to be represented? You always have people from downtown or somewhere else telling you what you need in your neighborhood. This is important: planning never happens without people who are going to have to live with the results day to day being involved, from the beginning” -Che Madyun, President of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules.” -Tom Peters
“African-American women have been victimized by race, gender, and class oppression. But portraying Black women solely as passive, unfortunate recipients of racial and sexual abuse stifles notions that Black women can actively work to change our circumstances and bring about changes in our lives. Similarly, presenting African-American women solely as heroic figures who easily engage in resisting oppression on all fronts minimizes the very real costs of oppression and can foster the perception that Black women need to help because we can ‘take it.’” –Patricia Hill Collins
Bright, E. M. (2003). Reviving America’s forgotten neighborhoods: An investigation of inner city revitalization efforts (Vol. 13). Psychology Press.
Carmon, N., & Hill, M. (1988). Neighborhood rehabilitation without relocation or gentrification. Journal of the American Planning Association, 54(4), 470-481.
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey – Unemployment. (2000). Bureau of Labor Statistics [Data file]. Retrieved from http://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet
Southwestern Pennsylvania Community Profiles – University Center for Social and Urban Research, University of Pittsburgh. (2015). Demographics, Housing and Properties, Economy Overview [Data file]. Retrieved from https://profiles.ucsur.pitt.edu/profiles/census-tract/42003130300/overview/
Weiss, M. A. (1980). The origins and legacy of urban renewal.