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Comment Thread and Response from Burgess’s Staff

We just wanted to provide the links to this discussion all in one place:

On Sunday, January 13, 2012 9:35 am The Pittsburgh Comet published  - Ravenstahl philosophy one of “Crony Capitalism.” We have citations.

At 11:18 am anonymous posted the following comment on the post

In our neoliberal era laissez faire is nothing more than the ideological cover for crony capitalism, so you and Dowd may not be that far apart.

Nonetheless, another egregious example of this administration’s ham-handed approach to development is what has been happening in Larimer. A significantly representative subset of the black, mostly lower-income population has been doing community-based planning for the last few years and a really nice plan was beginning to come together (that’s just how long these things take). But instead of letting that process unfold, the Mayor, through his wolf in shepherd’s clothing Ricky Burgess, shoved through a LIHTC development by Keith B Key Enterprises. KBK is the same entity that rebuilt the projects, now with newer siding, at the top of Black Street in Garfield, another project in direct conflict with the community’s desires and plans.

The modus operandi of Burgess in the Garfield case was to say that the community was too late in articulating its concerns. The deal had already been cut and they were too far along, etc, etc. This was a repeat of the Bakery Square development, also technically in Larimer, where the development was shoved through receiving TIF and, most abhorrently, avoiding the fair wage and labor laws in the hotel piece ostensibly because the hotel wasn’t in fact on the ground, but was up one story (at least that’s the justification I’ve heard). No discernible benefit has accrued to Larimer from Bakery Square, and if Burgess gets to continue to play developer in Larimer, none will.

Now, both Garfield and Bakery Square were supposedly done deals before the community had the wherewithal to ask to be part of the conversation. That is simply absurd with regard to the current phase of Larimer development. Here a community has been planning and discussing for years, with rare involvement from Burgess, aside from his obviously bored staff member that occasionally deigns to participate. But, now that there is an election coming up where the Mayor wants black votes, Burgess is intent to give him a groundbreaking in Larimer before May. So what does the good Reverend do this time since he can no longer say the deal is already cut? He disparages and casts general aspersions on the very community members that have been working so hard for the last couple of years. He works to divide the community by encouraging the formation of a new community group and he begins to warn of “outside influences and speculators that want to come and steal the community’s land”. These absurdities are bold enough to actually divide the community, especially among residents who’ve not been paying attention that much. To them, ANY new development in Larimer, which has been disinvested for decades, is a good thing.

They don’t recognize that the development Burgess wants, and THAT THE MAYOR HAS EXPLICITLY SUPPORTED, will re-concentrate poverty in an already affordable neighborhood, making it so that Larimer doesn’t improve, homeowners continue to be unable to sell their homes for more than a pittance even though they can see the flags of Google from their porches, and renters suffer slumlords whose units are even worse than the publicly subsidized ones.

I could go on but the entire scenario in Larimer reflects the fact that this administration’s ideas of development, especially at the neighborhood level, are formed in accordance with the short-term of the election cycle. Rather than engage in the hard work of community-based development that gains equity for low-income homeowners, broadens the tax base and addresses the segregating effect of the City’s low-income housing practice, this administration would rather get a festive groundbreaking and photo op in a black neighborhood in order to garner another couple dozen votes.

Apologies for the rude length of this comment.

At 6:55pm – Shawn Carter posted the following comment:

The KBK project in Garfield was approved in 2006.

Who was District 9′s Council rep/Housing Authority Vice-Chair in 2006?

Not Ricky Burgess.

Chronology matters.

On Monday, January 14, 2013 at 4:30pm Shawn Carter posted another comment:

Bram,

I’ve never tried this before…

So here goes…

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6VmGiczExnzQ0IyZHUzUnJsLTQ/edit

Enjoy!

Here is the text of the document that Carter links to in his Jan 14 4:30pm comment (we have attempted to make sure the formatting matches Carter’s google doc.  A Pdf of the google doc is available here.

So much to comment on…  Where shall I begin?  I suppose from the beginning.
But instead of letting that process unfold, the Mayor, through his wolf in shepherd’s clothing, Ricky Burgess, shoved through a LITHC development by Keith B. Key Enterprises.
Since Garfield is your primary reference point, let’s start there.  Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was Councilman Luke Ravenstahl, Reverend Burgess wasn’t even a member of Council, the late Bob O’Connor wasn’t yet Mayor, and Fulton Meachem was still in North Carolina when this project was set in motion, so it really preceded all of them.  And the community will tell you that, if you asked.
The modus operandi of Burgess in the Garfield case…  …was a repeat of the Bakery Square development, also technically in Larimer, where the development was shoved through receiving TIF and, most abhorrently, avoiding the fair wage and labor laws in the hotel piece…
http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/business/s_542490.html#axzz2HvFDiJmn

Did Council District 9 even have a representative when this legislation passed?  You already know the answer to that question, I presume, but since our reader don’t, I’ve provided the links.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but on the day of that vote Reverend Burgess hadn’t even been sworn into office.  He wouldn’t be sworn in for another 26 days.
I will add some commentary to that article.  Of the 8 Councilmembers who cast a vote on this legislation, all but one voted in the affirmative, although I’ll bet it might surprise you to see who was….  I’ll spare you the suspense…
It was then-Councilman Leonard Bodack, Jr.

KBK is the same entity that rebuilt the projects, now with newer siding, at the top of Black Street in Garfield, another project in direct conflict with the community’s desires and plans.

Are you sure about that last remark?  The projects weren’t rebuilt.  A community was.  And it sounds a lot like the residents explicitly wanted the community rebuilt AND not to be displaced.
“Rebuild our community, but don’t scatter us to the four winds.”
The neighborhood has been rebuilt and continues to see redevelopment.  More houses are being built throughout Garfield because of the dedicated service of community-based organizations and consistent investment of resources to this neighborhood.
So, where exactly is this “conflict?”
You mentioned this early on in your comment, so I’ll briefly share its definition:  LIHTC stands for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, defined as follows:
The LIHTC Program is an indirect Federal subsidy used to finance the development of affordable rental housing for low-income households. The LIHTC Program may seem complicated, but many local housing and community development agencies are effectively using these tax credits to increase the supply of affordable housing in their communities.
Do you have suggestions on additional funding sources to build low-income housing?  We’d love to hear them.
Reverend Burgess has been explicitly clear on his mission to rebuild the communities his constituents call home, and not be displaced.  But from your complaint, you accuse Reverend Burgess, whose desire is to build low-income housing in a low-income neighborhood with being directly in conflict with the planning process that, in your own words, “was beginning” to come together, and “that’s just how long these things take.”
But you also said:

A significantly representative subset of the black, mostly lower-income population has been doing community-based planning for the last few years and a really nice plan was beginning to come together (that’s just how long these things take)
What is your threshold for “significantly representative?”
a.) 10%?
b.) 5%?
c.) 1.1%?
If you answered “c.)”, you were correct.  1.1% of represents the total percentage of residents that were participating in the “community-based” planning process, not that anyone should discount that number.  You may be entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

So, we should just, wait?  Just let $60 million in direct and indirect public subsidies slip through our hands (and to a different community, not necessarily one in a neighborhood that has as much need as Larimer) waiting for the plan that “was beginning” to come together.  Let’s just wait until all the federal funds currently available to rebuild poor communities is gone and spent in other neighborhoods.
No, that’s foolish at best, and at worst, a damning commentary on how some people feel about the poor.
The planning process in Larimer continues.  As does action and not just words.
Moving right along, then…
No discernible benefit has accrued to Larimer from Bakery Square, and if Burgess gets to continue to play developer, none will.

Even if the first half of that sentence were true, and it isn’t, how is it chronologically or intellectually honest to lay THAT at the Reverend’s feet?   There are a lot of low-income families who deserve to live in clean, safe and affordable housing, right now and not at some point in the future.  And you know, former Councilman Douglas Shields always used that phrase “benefit has accrued to.”  
Here, a community has been planning and discussing for years, with rare involvement from Burgess, aside from his obviously bored staff member that occasionally deigns to participate.

These absurdities are bold enough to actually divide the community, especially among residents who’ve not been paying attention that much. To them, ANY new development in Larimer, which has been disinvested for decades, is a good thing.

Who is the “them?”  One might get the wrong impression about your use of articles to describe people.  So tread lightly there…

Continuing:
They don’t recognize that the development Burgess wants… will re-concentrate poverty in an already affordable neighborhood, making it so that Larimer doesn’t improve, homeowners continue to be unable to sell their homes for more than a pittance… and renters suffer slumlords whose units are even worse than the publicly subsidized ones.
Reverend Burgess has a solution for that.  Let’s move low-income families into better neighborhoods, TODAY.  Overnight, low-income families will have safer surroundings, much better schools, convenient access to healthy foods and real amenities, slumlords will lose their revenue base, we can still redevelop Larimer and help existing homeowners increase their equity.

All we have to do is begin building low-income housing in neighborhoods that fit that description.  Pittsburgh has many.  Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Highland Park, Morningside, Friendship, North Oakland, North Shore, Strip District, Mount Washington, South Side Flats, Observatory Hill, Greenfield, Lincoln Place, Swisshelm Park, Point Breeze, Regent Square, Banksville, Brookline and so on.
In addition, the Housing Authority could divest all of its’ scattered-site housing in low-income neighborhoods and replace it with single-family homes in the aforementioned neighborhoods.
These are the fastest means by which we remove disproportionate poverty and disinvestment as environmental variables in the lives of low-income families, almost overnight, and again, not at some point in the future.  Is that a bit painful to say?  Yes.  In a perfect world, families should be able to stay in Larimer.  But failed and dangerous communities are ones that must be fixed, and we must do that now.

Unfortunately, there is one little problem in that plan and I bet you already know what that is:

“high-income white noose” around the black inner city.”
Oddly enough, the plan can’t get past the torches and pitchforks of the residents of those cleaner, nicer, safer neighborhoods; even 40 years after the passage of the landmark federal law that was written to integrate housing in America, the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968, passed in the “tumultuous aftermath” of Dr. King’s assassination. (keep that in mind on your day off next week.)
As a result, that leaves us the task of rebuilding the community and ensuring that families aren’t displaced.
It appears as though you are bothered by the prospect of building low-income housing in a low-income neighborhood.  Okay, let’s build market-rate housing in Larimer.
Average cost to build a 2-story, 2,520 square-foot structure with a footprint of 24’ x 50’ in Pittsburgh: $274,350.

Median household income in Larimer:  Less than $25,000/yr.
If we were to assume that every household in Larimer had credit scores of 850, and had access to the primary consumer credit market, the most a bank would likely finance is $75,000.
And even if we got a volume discount for building hundreds of homes, the price tag would still come in around $200,000.  $200,000 minus $75,000 (assuming a low-income family could even borrow that much) leaves a gap of $125,000.  Who’s subsidizing that?
It becomes pretty clear that the intent is to build homes that low-income families simply cannot afford.  The homes are clearly being built for someone else.
Who?  Families earning $90,000/year, of course.
But, now that there is an election coming up where the Mayor wants black votes, Burgess is intent to give him a groundbreaking in Larimer before May.

We wish we could get the shovel(s) in the ground that fast.  So do Larimer’s residents.

Rather than engage in the hard work of community-based development that gains equity for low-income homeowners, broadens the tax base and addresses the segregating effect of the City’s low-income housing practice,…

You’re correct in part…  The City’s low-income housing is segregated.  Again, let’s fix that.
I’ll repeat a previous answer of mine for emphasis:
All we have to do is begin building low-income housing in neighborhoods that fit that description.  Pittsburgh has many.  Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Highland Park, Morningside, Friendship, North Oakland, North Shore, Strip District, Mount Washington, South Side Flats, Observatory Hill, Greenfield, Lincoln Place, Swisshelm Park, Point Breeze, Regent Square, Banksville, Brookline and so on.

I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t respond to this:
He works to divide the community by encouraging the formation of a new community group and he begins to warn of “outside influences and speculators that want to come and steal the community’s land”.

Outside influences DO want the land.  Outside influences are trying to quietly buy up the land.  It is the flattest, developable land in the City’s East End.  It is surrounded by a resurgent East Liberty, Highland Park, Point Breeze, North Point Breeze and Shadyside.
Larimer is an island of severe poverty surrounded by an ocean of affluence, opportunity and stability.  Reverend Burgess’ position remains clear on this issue:  The City/County/State/Feds have invested almost $1 billion into this area and the low-income residents in East Liberty and Larimer deserve to be able to live within walking distance of all of these investments and remain close to readily available public transit.
Very, very long story short:
Someone has to represent the interests of the most vulnerable.  It is a constant battle to prevent what
some consider “perfection” to become the enemy of the good.  We have an obligation not to simply sit around and wait while these neighborhoods are planned into perpetuity, and right into extinction (at least for the current families.)
Reverend Burgess, regardless of how you may choose to mischaracterize him, has been consistent in working to help his constituents.  You may always disagree with how he does it.

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  • http://twitter.com/MEM9570 Shawn Carter

    Thanks for posting all of this… I believe you had a question for me…