Pittsburgh City Council tackles inequality | Keeping Up With the Council

Pittsburgh City Council tackles inequality

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Over the past decade Pittsburgh has been named the "Most Livable City" a handful of times by a handful of publications. While the designation was originally met with a great amount of fanfare in earlier years, recently the narrative has shifted.

In 2014, the last time Pittsburgh was named most livable, the city was also recognized out of the United States' 40 largest metropolitan regions  for having the highest poverty rate among African Americans ages 18-64.

"Our dream is to own a single family home," Calvin Glover, an employee at Allegheny General Hospital said at a Pittsburgh City Council meeting this week. "I'd like to be saving for my daughters college career and education, but I worry more about making ends meet than I do about those types of things ... I often hear about Pittsburgh being the most livable city but then I question, who did they ask when they made that determination."

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The wage divide and a lack of affordable housing options are two areas of inequality currently being addressed by Councilors Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle . At council's Oct. 7 meeting, they considered a set of legislation Burgess is calling a "City For All Agenda."

"Pittsburgh is neither livable nor affordable for low- and moderate-income residents in our city and their families," Burgess said. "According to my estimates there are about 90,000 citizens who are suffering, who for whatever reason are not participating in Pittsburgh's renaissance."

Burgess' legislation includes a resolution establishing a Wage Review Committee to look at the "impact of
increasing the wages of service workers and service employees in the City of Pittsburgh." Council gave the resolution preliminary approval. 

"We definitely feel the strain," said Jarrell Reeves, a housekeeping employee at UPMC Shadyside who attended the Oct. 7 meeting to speak on behalf of the resolution. "Basic groceries cost everyone the same whether they make $13 an hour, $23 or $3000 an hour. But groceries for my family eats up half of our paycheck."

Another piece of legislation sponsored by councilors Burgess and Lavelle would add "Source of Income" (for example, a housing voucher) as a protected class to the Pittsburgh code governing discrimination and unlawful housing practices. The goal would be to prevent housing discrimination against people with housing vouchers. A public hearing and special meeting are being scheduled.

Also in that vein were two resolutions related to affordable housing. One would establish an initiative  "to develop interim affordable housing strategies for the East End neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh at no cost to the City." The other would add "Affordable Housing Impact Statements" to the city's zoning code so that developers are required to define their intentions for affordable housing in new projects. 

Burgess and Lavelle's efforts are tied to concerns about the destruction of affordable housing complexes and lack of affordable housing in new developments

"I think this is a great subject that we have to talk about," said Councilor Corey O'Connor who referenced the HBO special San Francisco 2.0 about how booming development can exclude low-income residents.  "It was pretty powerful to see how communities started with tech companies starting to grow and then the residents there were slowly driven to another part of town."

Council also considered a resolution to allocate $35,000 to the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission for software to better monitor contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses. 

"We're essentially a city of two," said Lavelle. "And in order to change that reality government is going to have to play a more significant case and I believe as we head down this path of trying to change that, the [Equal Opportunity Review Commission] is going to become even more significant in trying to right the wrongs and create a city that is more holistic in nature."


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