Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) have discovered that there is a shortage of so-called affordable housing (a euphemism for low-income housing) in the area, especially in East Liberty, the focus of recent protestations. Last week, Kevin Acklin, the born-again-Democrat serving as Peduto’s chief of staff, announced that the city would be establishing an affordable housing fund to address the shortage of housing for those with a shortage of income.
It is strikingly surreal that our leaders have “discovered” a shortage of low-income housing because:
1. A casual ride through East Liberty/Larimer reveals residential construction nearly everywhere. In fact, observers have questioned how the newly constructed and soon to be completed apartments and condos will be filled in a city with stagnant population growth. At the same time, the hyper-active East Liberty Development Inc. has assured everyone within ear-shot that they have worked hard to guarantee adequate affordable housing in the neighborhood.
2. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania reported in early May that there was a shortage of 21,000 homes in Pittsburgh for families at or below the poverty level. Attorney Robert Damewood of Regional Housing Legal Services claimed that the local shortage was severe. Apparently the URA and the mayor’s office had yet to recognize this problem until recently.
3. Recent data from the Census Bureau show a poverty rate of 23.8% of the Pittsburgh population, a rate exceeding the national number by over eight points and the Pennsylvania percentage by over 10 points. Importantly, Pittsburgh poverty increased by nearly a full point (a four percent increase in the number falling at or below the line) in one year! Nearly one out of four residents of the city now lives at or below the poverty line. Until recently, no one in the local leadership thought that increasing poverty equated to a housing crisis.
This “discovery” of a crisis in low-income housing is another page in the ongoing saga of gentrification in Pittsburgh. Actually, “gentrification” is a euphemism for a more insidious process of ethnic cleansing. Europeans have a long history of ethnic cleansing in the New World, displacing peoples to suit their own settlement plans. In the case of native Americans, the answer was to collect them all on reservations. East Liberty was designated for a reservation of poor and African-Americans by an earlier generation of urban “renewing” civic leaders. Now they want it back.
Rather than tend to the needs of the neighborhoods– especially the urban poor– Mayor Peduto, like earlier mayors, has been occupied with bike lanes and other amenities that might attract migrant urban hipsters. His vision is to create a city for Richard Florida’s so-called creative class. He sees providing bike lanes for the 2 to 3% who regularly use bicycles (seasonally!) as a higher priority than housing for the 23.8% of our neighbors who fall below the poverty line.
Peduto likes to remind critics of his bike policy of the success of the bike culture in Amsterdam (apparently his model for the New Pittsburgh). What he doesn’t say is that Amsterdam can be bike friendly without neglecting the poor and disadvantaged. When confronted with a rise in the city’s poverty rate late in 2014:
Amsterdam city council has… recently announced measures to overcome poverty, including giving low-income workers entitlement to receive financial support.
The city has raised the minimum income threshold for support from 110 to 120 per cent of the legal minimum social income. Currently monthly minimum social income is 1.489 euros for a couple and 1.122 euros for an individual.
Amsterdam is setting aside an extra 20 million euros annually, in addition to the 60 million euros already allocated to combat poverty.
Apparently, the Peduto administration and the local foundations missed that element of Amsterdam’s urban planning.
— Greg Godels