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Council approves amended land bank proposal - UPDATE AND CORRECTION

Posted by Elwin Green on April 15, 2014 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (2)

UPDATE: The final version of the land bank legislation proposed by Councilwoman Deb Gross - substantially amended from the original - received final passage Monday, and has been sent to the Mayor's office for his signature. An Interim Board of Directors for the Land Bank has been named, consisting of the following individuals: Matthew Barron, Richard Carrington, Shawn Carter, Ronell Guy, Jerome Jackson, Llyod Hedlund, Kim Salinetro, Barb Valaw and Dan Wood. They are to draft a set of policies and procedures to recommend to the Initial Board of Directors, who are to be named within 90 days.


CORRECTION: My last blog post, on City Council's preliminary approval of the land bank bill, contained an error. It states that the land bank legislation proposed by Councilman Ricky V. Burgess died on Dec. 31, 2012. That was based on the information that appeared on the City Clerk's website:




As it turns out, the City's website was in error. It has now been fixed, and shows that the resolution died on December 31, 2013, not December 31, 2012.


You see, City Council operates on legislative terms that run two years, and the most recent legislative term covered 2012 and 2013. A new legislative term began in January.


Which means that Councilman Burgess's land bank proposal languished without action - including any action by Councilman Burgess - not for two months, but for more than 13 months.


I don't know what to make of that. 

Council approves amended land bank proposal - 2

Posted by Elwin Green on April 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

My friend and former colleague, Diana Nelson Jones, asked me on Facebook what I think. I have not yet read the legislation as passed, only the stories about it that I referred to in the previous post. After I've read it, I may have more to say, but here's what I have for now; 


I think a land bank is basically a good idea. The degrees of vacancy and tax delinquency in the City generally, and in Homewood in particular, are ridiculous; the current process for returning real estate to productive use is ineffective; and even if Councilwoman Harris is correct in saying that that process could be fixed with sufficient funding, the land bank, as a separate entity, will not require that funding, which the City seems ill-positioned to provide.


I never understood Councilman Burgess's messaging on this, because it sounded to me like he not only considered the Councilwoman Gross's original bill to be a bad bill, but that he considered the land bank itself to be a bad idea. This confused me, because on October 31, 2012, he proposed legislation to create a land bank, and on November 3, 2012, when he described it to the Save Race Street Committee, he sounded excited about the idea, describing it as "probably the most important thing I've done in Council" - he talked about it for seven minutes, beginning at 5:17 in this video:

 

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On November 14, 2012 that proposed legislation (listed on the City's website as 2012-0895), was held for post agenda, which means that it was supposed to be the subject of a meeting in which Council invites people with expertise to come and speak. That meeting never happened, and on December 31, 2012, it died. The question that Homewood Nation should have asked Burgess as soon as he spoke out against Councilwoman Gross's bill is, "What happened with yours?" (Did some other media outlet pick up on that, and did I miss it?)


I think Deb Gross stepped into it by having her very first piece of legislation be one that seemed hastily drafted. I say seemed because the process leading up to it goes back to March, 2010. But she had been in office barely a month.

 

I think the provision for City Council to have oversight for two years coincides nicely with the remaining length of Councilman Burgess' term.


I think I need to do better at paying attention to everything having to do with land/real estate, and at bringing it to my readers' attention (again, the background to this bill goes back FOUR YEARS).

 

I think it's really interesting, and perplexing, how so many people in my community talk so much about "land," but so little about "real estate."

 

I think that one of the first policies that the board of the land bank should write is one that lists the order in which it will acquire properties, and that said policy should specify that it will acquire and dispose of City-owned properties FIRST, and that owner-occupied properties will come dead last - ALWAYS, so that not one owner-occupied property will be considered for acquisition until there are no City-owned properties left. Councilwoman Gross says there are 7,000 - 8,000 parcels wholly owned by the City; acquiring and disposing of those would take years.

 

I think that Councilman Burgess may have just secured his re-election - UNLESS the fear ignited (not created) by his campaign against the bill now makes people view him as a sellout for voting for even an amended version. In any case, if he runs again, I think his performance on this bill will be the centerpiece of his campaign.

 

I think the course of the bill's progress provides a fascinating study in communication. Consider these examples of..


1) Communication within communities: In Homewood, after the original bill was publicized by Councilman Burgess, the Community Empowerment Association held an emergency meeting about the land bank. At the same time, on the same day, the Larimer Consensus Group included a presentation about the land bank as part of its regular monthly meeting.


HOMEWOOD NEEDS A REGULAR MONTHLY MEETING ROBUST ENOUGH TO RESPOND TO EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT A GENUINE EMERGENCY.


I tried to do that as chair of Block Watch Plus.  Somebody needs to do it better than I did, because Homewood does not need any more emergency meetings.


2) Communication to communities: Councilman Burgess flooded his district with emotionally-charged letters; Councilwoman Gross and Councilman Corey O'Connor snagged space on the CIty's website to build an information-packed mini-website for the land bank. Personally, I would rather research a topic online than receive scary letters about it in the mail. In fact, I think that if Councilman Burgess does seek re-election, and does not change his communication strategies or style (which have apparently worked well enough for him so far), his effort will be hindered by those strategies, or by that style. I think an increasing number of us who vote a) would rather use Facebook, Twitter or even email than read postal mail, and b) want more continual access to information, and more engagement, than he offers.


He, his staff and his supporters need to deal with that.

Council approves amended land bank proposal - 1

Posted by Elwin Green on April 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Pittsburgh's City Council has passed an amended version of a land bank bill that has been the subject of controversy since it was introduced in January.


The Post-Gazette account of yesterday's action by Council notes that it required some last-minute negotiating:


"...as late as 8 p.m. Tuesday, council members and Mr. Peduto’s policy director, Matt Barron, remained at city hall as they negotiated amendments that would make the bill digestible to members who had sharply opposed it."


Those members included Homewood's Councilman, the Rev. Ricky V. Burgess, Councilman Daniel Lavelle, whose 6th District inlcudes the Hill; Councilwoman Darlene M. Harris, of the 1st District; and Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, of the 2nd District.


Burgess and Lavelle, who led the charge against the original legislation, voted for the amended bill, allowing it to pass with seven votes; Harris voted against it and Kail-Smith abstained.


Amendments included a provision for CIty Council oversight of sales by the land bank for the first two years of its existence, and an expansion of its board of directors from seven to nine, with three appointed by the Mayor, three appointed by the Council members whose districts have the most vacant land, and three community members selected by those first six.


The Tribune-Review's story on yesterday's Council vote is shorter than the P-G's, but interestingly, quotes a Homewood resident as saying that the land bank is a positive because it might allow him "to stay in the neighborhood."


Opponents to the land bank had argued that it would be used to displace residents in the City's most blighted neighborhoods.

Another Saturday In The Hood - Part 1

Posted by Elwin Green on March 29, 2014 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This afternoon, The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) held a block party at The Hub, an early childhood learning center on Kelly Street.


The Westinghouse marching band was there:





Chelsea the Possum was there, courtesy of the Animal Rescue League:





And a building full of both adults and kids, exploring The Hub:





I think it safe to say, a good time was had by all - and all to a purpose of advocating for, and encouraging people to participate in, early childhood education:


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A Decisive Moment, A Simple Request

Posted by Elwin Green on March 28, 2014 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (1)

On April 1, 2010, I launched the Homewood Nation website as the successor to "My Homewood," the Post-Gazette's first blog, which began on October 3, 2005.

 

So, Homewood Nation is close to finishing its fourth year; and I have been writing about Homewood for nearly 8 1/2 years.

 

Today I posted a status on Facebook inviting people to make greater use of Homewood Nation - specifically, by using "Homewood Happenings," the community calendar.

 

This post is an alternative to that one. Here, I ask, "Should Homewood Nation continue at all?"

 

THAT'S A REAL QUESTION. The domain name, www.homewoodnation.com, expires at the end of this month, and I must decide whether or not to renew it.

 

I want to keep Homewood Nation going, especially since it has expanded to include a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel. Especially since Homewood Nation has sponsored events, both live and online. Especially since Homewood Nation has been the first news outlet to cover some stories in Homewood, and the only news outlet to cover some others. I not only want to keep Homewood Nation going; I want to keep it growing, for a long time.

 

But without help, I can't afford to keep it going, much less growing.

 

That's not because it takes a lot of money. It's because it takes a lot of time. Time that I could otherwise devote to a J-O-B.

 

I know that by doing this work, I have earned some people's respect, appreciation and even admiration. But have I earned any money?

 

Yes - about $1,100.

 

Over four years, that's less than $1 a day.

 

I have staked my economic life on Jesus' command and promise, "Give, and it shall be given unto you." In recent months, I have concluded that I need to link that to another command-promise: "Ask, and you shall receive."

 

So I am asking: If you appreciate Homewood Nation, if you want to see it continue, please help it to continue by using the button to the right to make a contribution via PayPal.

 

How much? A $10 contibution would be great, but the real answer is, "Whatever Homewood Nation is worth to you and whatever you can afford." ANY AMOUNT WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

 

Please do it now, while you're thinking of it.

 

THANK YOU!

A conversation with the Pittsburgh Police

Posted by Jeffrey Sanders on March 25, 2014 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Jeffrey Sanders is a Homewood Nation member.


Hello everyone. My name is Jeffrey Sanders. I am neither a resident of Homewood nor of Pittsburgh. Heck, I'm not even a resident of Pennsylvania for that matter, but rather a small town in Northwestern Ohio called Defiance. The fact of the matter is that my wife and I have fallen in love with Pittsburgh and plan to take up residence in the Pittsburgh area in a year or so.


You see, about three years ago, while living in Akron, Ohio during a previous marriage, I came across a kind fellow with the initials E.G. while exploring information about Pittsburgh, via different Facebook pages which led me to Homewood Nation.


Over the last few years I've kept in contact with Mr. E.G. (I'm sure by now you can all imagine who I'm referring to), as his writings and passion for his neighborhood had really captured my admiration. For a few years Mr. E.G. and I had discussed, via Facebook, the idea of meeting up when I found myself visiting Pittsburgh.


So let's fast forward to November, 2013. Upon planning a trip to Pittsburgh to attend a Penguins game, I contact my Homewood Nation friend and Facebook pal to arrange a visit so we can sit down in person and just have some good old human interaction. So here is where the whole point of this story comes into play.


I had purchased a brand new vehicle a week before my planned visit. In Ohio, you put the license plates from your old vehicle onto your new vehicle until the memorandum title shows up at your doorstep and you can transfer the information. So in other words, if I'm driving around Pennsylvania in my 2014 Dodge Avenger and a police officer runs my plates, he will see that the plates are still registered to another vehicle and will probably assume that it is stolen. And will probably not give me time to explain Ohio's crazy vehicle laws before passing judgement.


So in preparation for my trip to Pittsburgh, I proactively call the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police - the Zone Six command in the West End. I was put through to an older lady officer, and that's when the conversation that I had not expected began. You see, my question was strictly to do with my license plates and the conversation became a more complex one.


She first asked where I was going and how long I would be staying. My response: staying in Moon Township, going to a hockey game, to do some sightseeing and then to meet a friend in Homewood. When I mentioned Homewood, thats when her tone changed. I could tell by her voice that she was African- American and she proceeded to ask me if I am white (apparently I have the voice of the average white guy, which I am indeed). She then asked me why in the hell a white guy from Ohio would want to go to Homewood. I then explained my internet friendship to Mr. E.G. She then proceeded to tell me that if officers in Zone 5 ran my plates in their current state that they would assume that my car was stolen, and that upon my visit, I should report to the Zone 5 station, explain why a guy like me is in Homewood, tell them about my vehicle registration and that I'm not there for any trouble.


From there she went on to tell me that she had grown up in Homewood and strongly urged me to just stay away from the area. She explained to me that she has been an officer for nearly thirty years and that the younger generation of overzealous officers do not think or act like her generation of officers and that I would be stopped and harassed for being white in a neighborhood such as Homewood, whether my license plates were good or bad. She also went on to stress that I may encounter violence in Homewood  simply because of the fact that I am white.  And then I specifically remember her saying, "Isn't it a damn shame that we are even talikng about this?"


So what is one to think? I honestly felt that the kind woman had my best interest in mind to just babble these things off to a complete stranger - but at the same time we do not live in a police state. I look forward to good conversation and reading your feedback and comments.

Lighthouse students shine

Posted by Elwin Green on March 21, 2014 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (0)

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The Lighthouse Xclusive Steppers perform at Westinghouse



Last night, students in the Lighthouse Project at Westinghouse High School put some of their newly-acquired skills on display for parents and other members of the community

 

Part of the Lighthouse space served as a gallery for student phtography, while in the small auditorium, the Lighthouse Music Crew sang and the Lighthouse Xclusive Steppers stepped.

 

The audience also got a video preview of LNN, or the Lighthouse News Network, a project in which students will use the school's television studio to produce a newscast.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.


 

The program was followed by a spaghetti dinner in the school cafeteria.

 

Project Director James A. Brown said that during the course of the school year, about 100 students participate in Lighthouse's instructional modules, which includes music, stepping, photography, video, mixed media, graphic design and visual arts.

 

The Lighthouse Project began in 2007. Last night's program was designed as a teaser for their end of the year celebration, to be held on June 4, at 6 pm, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre in East Liberty. For more information, call (412) 436-0535.

FEBU: "Homewood Nation Presents"

Posted by Elwin Green on March 6, 2014 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (4)

In the quest to enable more empowering and delightful conversations in and about Homewood, Homewood Nation is launching a series of events under the title, "Homewood Nation Presents."

 

Homewood Nation Presents will include both real-life and online events offering conversations with smart people on fascinating topics.

 

The real-life events will take place in a variety of venues. The online events will use Google Plus as a platform for broadcasting live video, with the capability for Q and A during the conversation.

 

Our first online event will be at 8 pm this evening, with guest Shimira Williams, in a conversation titled "Own Your Own." Ms. Williams, founder of Productivity LLC (I cannot BELIEVE she was able to snag such a great, simple name), will discuss the importance of businesses owning their own domain names (such as www.homewoodnation.com), and how to establish your online domain. If you own a business and your online presence consists only of a Facebook page, Ms. Williams will help you to move to a new level.

 

Next week, Homewood Nation Presents will begin a three-part series of conversations, also for business owners, with Craig Calvert, of SmartProcure - conversations designed to help your business grow by competing for and winning some of the $20 billion that government agencies spend EVERY DAY.

 

If the last part of that last sentence didn't take your breath away, you need to re-read it.

 

The series will broadcast live at 8:30 p.m. on March 11, 18 and 25.

 

To keep informed of these and future events, email homewoodnation@gmail.com and ask to be placed on our notification list. Thanks!


And in case you haven't guessed yet, FEBU is a play on a fashion brand, and stands for "For Everybody, By Us." Because in the end, I intend to sell to the world. 

 

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming...

BUSINESS: Opportunity knocks; Homewood sleeps?

Posted by Elwin Green on March 1, 2014 at 6:50 PM Comments comments (0)


On Thursday, I met with Harry Geyer, proprietor of The Wheel Mill. the indoor bike park on Hamilton Avenue. When he announced plans to create the park in April 2012, I wrote a piece that ended with these lines:


Geyer said that because he does not want to compete with local bicycle shops, the facility will offer only limited bicycle repair services. Likewise, while there might be light refreshments available, The Wheel Mill will not include a restaurant.


Let me rephrase that last bit: "Likewise, while there might be light refreshments available, The Wheel Mill will not include a restaurant, BECAUSE GEYER DOES NOT WANT TO COMPETE WITH LOCAL RESTAURANTS."


Knock-knock.


During our meeting Thursday, Harry Geyer said that The Wheel Mill attracts about 1,000 people a month, most of whom do not know anything about Homewood, because they come from different states - and so far, from seven different countries.


And when these national and international visitors come to ride at The Wheel Mill, they work up an appetite.


How many restaurants are there in Homewood?


KNOCK-KNOCK.


The Wheel Mill's customers are visitors. They do not know their way around. And when they are in The Wheel Mill, and work up an appetite, they want to eat something THERE, and then ride some more. They would prefer not to leave the building (not because they are afraid of crime - they don't even know about crime in Homewood, because they are from out of state and out of country).


And this is what Harry Geyer said: "Pizza Parma is making a killing."


Why? Because they DELIVER.


How many restaurants in Homewood will deliver to a location in Homewood full of hungry people with money to spend?


KNOCK-KNOCK!! KNOCK-KNOCK!!! KNOCK-KNOCK!!!!

BUSINESS: Opportunity knocks; Homewood answers

Posted by Elwin Green on March 1, 2014 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)


Entrepreneurs (l-r) Dwight Mayo (Transportation Solutions), Ken Ross (Artistry Greenscape), Tracey Carter (Shear Delight Beuty Salon), and Naomi Johnson (Something Borrowed Boutique) shared insights at Urban Innovation21's orientation for its business grant competition.


Opportunity knocked on Homewood's door this morning, and some two dozen entrepreneurs got out of bed to answer it.

 

The opportunity comes in the form of a business grant competition for Homewood-based businesses, offered by Urban Innovation21, a public-private partnership. The competition will award grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 to the participants who submit the best business plans.

 

This morning, UI21 conducted the first of two orientation sessions for interested entrepreneurs, at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum (the second will also be held there, Tuesday, March 4, at 6 p.m.).

 

The program opened with a panel discussion featuring participants from previous UI21 grant competitions.

 

Panel members stressed that the competition offers value beyond the possibility of receiving a grant - such as the opportunity to network.

 

"Everybody in this room has something to offer other people in the room," said Naomi Johnson, whose business, Something Borrowed Boutique, was awarded a $5,000 grant last year.

 

In a series of four weekly workshops that begin next Saturday, UI21 staffers will help aspirants to research and write their business plans.

 

Even businesses owners who do not win a grant may qualify for a no-interest loan through Kiva Zip, a nonprofit program that allows individuals to lend directly to entrepreneurs.


This is the second year for the Homewood grant competition, which last year awarded grants to eight businesses. Urban Innovation21 has also conducted similar grant competiitons for businesses in the Hill District.


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