Homewood: A Storied History
In the middle of all the nonstop happy talk about the revitalizing urbanification of older Rust Belt cities like Buffalo, Cleveland and our old friend Pittsburgh, UrbanTools notes that the benefit falls on a very narrow slice of the body politic: the development "community" and other hustlers who ask that government pays for their slick new condos and apartments for transient Millennials. Meanwhile, all of these cities are losing population and unemployment rates are still high.
Rumblings in Pittsburgh
There has been a slow-motion crisis building for years in Pittsburgh. It's the disappearance and decline of minority populations who for generations called Pittsburgh home.
Neighborhood such as Homewood, East Liberty and the Hill District were solid neighborhoods of working African-American families who had a plethora of affordable housing thanks to Pittsburgh's use of the land value tax, which reduced the incidence of the property tax on these vulnerable neighborhoods during the collapse of the steel industry.
In the year 2000, in the middle of a corrosive mayoral primary an opportunistic challenger took advantage of a controversial reassessment and the anger of upper-middle-class residents to end the 80-year-old land value tax. The change back to traditional property taxation very quickly reduced building renovations and construction starts just as the growth boom of the 2000 started, increased taxes in poor to working neighborhoods, as well as reduced real property tax collections overall.
Pittsburgh may be turning into a playground for tax abatement-hungry developers and millennials, but what used to be a community that could comfortably and affordably contain residents and businesses, rich and poor, and black-and-white is turning into another monoculture. There could've been a different way.