Pittsburgh United took its Nothside campaign on a bus tour through the neighborhoods this afternoon, linking blighted conditions and episodes of violence to lack of opportunity for good jobs.
The coalition of 46 organizations is seeking a community benefits agreement with Continental Real Estate, the developer of a Hyatt Hotel and entertainment complex on the North Shore. Continental has not met with leaders of the campaign. (You can find out more about the campaign at www.youtube.com/pghunited.)
About 75 people rode two school buses through California-Kirkbride, Manchester, the North Shore and the Central Northside. They included Councilwoman-elect Natalia Rudiak of District 4, Councilman Bill Peduto of District 8 and representatives of organizations such as Just Harvest, the Pittsburgh Interfaith Action Network and Northside Fair Housing Coalition.
On the bus I rode, WIll Thompkins, a lifelong North Sider, served as guide. He pointed out where young people have been shot and killed, the Manchester pool that has been closed for years and institutions that do positive work with youth.
Janice Parks, leader of the Young Men and Women's African-American Heritage Association, said that, as "an older baby-boomer," she grew up and her parents raised her believing that "we would do better than they did. But how many of us are picking up slack for what our working children cannot do?"
"They are already working their butts off and they can't get to first. That's not a realistic way to ask our children to live," she said. "We need to get real about requiring those who get subsidized land and development deals with tax payer money to give back so that our children can" have a decent quality of life.
Asia Howell, a young mother of an 18-month-old, said she would have to live with an aunt or in a shelter if not for the subsidized housing she has in the Central Northside. "That's the reality," she said. "I can't pay market rent.
"I am working on my master's degree at Pitt," she said. "I want to be an English teacher. People think that young black girls who live in these houses don't want to do anything, but that's a stigma."
"And there are a lot of people like her" in subsidized housing, said Ronell Guy, executive director of the Northside Fair Housing Coalition, which co-manages 345 subsidized homes in several North Side neighborhoods. "We are trying to grow the market from the inside out so people can build their capacity," maintain a checking account and other life skills that many who have been mired in poverty have never learned.
"The response to losing good industrial jobs in Pittsburgh is [for the city] to give rich people millions of dollars to build things where people work for minimum wage," said Gabe Morgan, co-chair of Pittsburgh United and the state director of the Service Employees International Union.
Sam Williamson, the Western Pennsylvania director for the Service Employees International Union, described Continental's acquisition of land for $8 a square foot as a give-away. "We are not going to rest until we get a community benefits agreement for the North Side."