What about Homewood? Collaboration powers new revitalization efforts in blighted neighborhood

Categories: Homewood News,News

October 20, 2015

As Pittsburgh’s third renaissance continues, some neighborhoods — like East Liberty — have been completely transformed with new development, better housing and good jobs.

What about Homewood? Crime is the highest in the city, and incomes are well below the regional average. It has bullet holes and blight, and it’s the home of violent gangs — but also working families.

Na’Kea Speaks is a stay-at-home mother. Her husband is a general contractor. She remembers the days when there was a bowling alley and a roller rink across the street from where she lived.

“I like it because I was born and raised here, so it’s part of me, it’s familiar, and I have a lot of people here that I love and care about,” Speaks said.

One of her three sons was killed two years ago, but Speaks has not moved away. She wants a better Homewood for her 12-year-old son, Leland, and his little brother, and she refuses to believe her neighborhood can’t improve.

Everyone in the new Homewood Community Development Collaborative feels the same. It’s a group of nonprofit organizations working together.

Rashad Byrdsong runs one of the spokes in that wheel — the Community Empowerment Association, which offers career training.

“What we would like to do is to be able to train these young people to be able to rehab a house, and to be able to live in the house that they rehab and build,” Byrdsong said.

He said he’s optimistic “for the first time in a long time” about the chances for success.

Financial backing comes from Upper Saint Clair — just 16 miles away on the map, but a world away in every other sense.

“A very common thing when I first showed up here 5 1/2 years ago is, ‘Oh, you’re a white guy,'” Collaborative member Dan Paul said. “And then I heard this litany: ‘White guys, you show up, you take over, you screw it up and then you leave,’ and apparently there’s been a history of that.”

Paul, a corporate executive, retired with a healthy bank account and world-class problem-solving skills. He brings both to Homewood, along with his Christian faith.

“That’s just getting to know your neighbor,” he said.

Paul is a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair.  Westminster and other churches in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, are raising $12 million. It’s a bank of seed money to grow change for the blocks in Homewood where it’s needed.

Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania has already transformed one Homewood street. Local clergy invested their own money after they say Homewood was forgotten by local developers, which feels like discrimination to some.

Racial reconciliation will have to come along for the ride in this effort.

“People never thought we’d do this,” the Rev. Samuel Ware said. “They said the preachers won’t stick together. We did. They said, ‘They won’t get the money to build anything.’ We did.”

This time around, the new idea to make things work is allowing Homewood residents to call the shots on how the money is spent.

Ron Porter, a consultant, has lived here for 43 years. His expertise and experience in organizing is at the heart of the new effort. He is a facilitator for the Collaborative.

“It’s no different than people in Fox Chapel,” Porter said. “People in Fox Chapel don’t want people from Homewood coming in and telling them how to raise their children, how to spend money, how to operate their businesses.”

City Councilman Ricky Burgess’ plan to combat crime in Homewood cannot be separated from the plan to build new housing and businesses.

“The trick is to do all the things at the same time — to have better jobs, better housing, better stores, better opportunities, better schools, better safety, everything, at the same time,” Burgess said.

One thing that Homewood has in its corner this time around is that the politicians seem to be aligned. They all envision a time when people go to Homewood Avenue to check out a hot new restaurant and young professionals consider buying their next home in the area.

Speaks looks forward to that day, so she can raise her family with the same peace as people in other areas of Pittsburgh do.

To the people who commit violence in Homewood, she says, “Your time is limited.”


Read the WTAE article at: http://www.wtae.com/news/what-about-homewood-collaboration-powers-new-revitalization-efforts/35882438