Blight tours in Wilkinsburg PA? It’s a start.

Although the idea of vacant house “tours’ is a little odd, the willingness in Wilkinsburg PA (an area I know slightly) to address the current and the underlying issues of loss of population is certainly better than how various neighborhood associations and City Hall have handled it in New Orleans.

While there last, I heard some anecdotes about one Pittsburgh neighborhood that has been organizing around rezoning in order to allow low-income tiny home development to increase socioeconomic diversity and resident types such as seniors and maybe even the previously homeless to be able to gain a foothold.
I think it’s time for a new citizen-led initiative around quality of life issues across sectors and not just use all of our energy for the “too little-too late” reactions to Loyola Avenue rubber stamping any development.

For example, I know how much Rebuilding Together (previously known as Christmas in October when I worked with the folks there) did to repair low income and senior homes so think how much more that could be done if we gathered and used resources like these at the regional level and didn’t just rely on corporate sponsorship. After all, blight is a outcome of multiple issues happening at once, and from outdated or outsized attitudes about development.

Certainly it would be beneficial for residents to adopt a more activist stance on rental property that goes beyond just posting flyers that yell at visitors and that reduces the issue to “all short term rentals bad.” I actually know someone who told me with a straight face that STR hosts were worse than heroin dealers. That’s the kind of statement that serves no solution, but encourages polemic rants to be the acceptable level of response. Of course, one of the things that is odd to many who are viewing the fury over the STRs is that loss of good rental properties has been an issue for a very long time in the African-American community with little attention paid. And the takeover of public housing for “mixed use” has been an issue since the1990s and became another way for developers to use public funding to get market rate development in our historic corridor, and yet I cannot remember seeing significant organizing against this in the white-led neighborhood associations or not since it was linked to the Walmart development around the St. Thomas Projects.

Or, any inserting themselves to disrupt the sequence of events in any developing area which roughly goes something like this: first, enterprising folks buy low-cost property. Some live there easily and as neighbors, but sooner or later, others come only to buy for investment. When that happens, low-income housing owners (Section 8) are hit with fines and complaints by their new neighbors ’til they sell out (not til they repair but until they are gone) and a new owner can take it over. The security system and the high fence are added and the house is taken from a 2 or 3 unit property to a single home. Next, stores and amenities that chiefly benefit young white residents crowd out the old places. Then, the African-American residents who still remain are monitored for behavior that doesn’t fit the QoL for the new residents and finally get the hint that it is time to get out of this area. (I think of the complaints from new Treme residents about the second lines, or people calling in complaints against people congregating and drinking from paper bags but not about those with wine glasses or Miller Longnecks, or the guy who lives in a posh place on Esplanade has complained loudly against the laundromat at Lopez and Grande Rte. St. John, or those who put glue in bicycle locks of anyone who dares to lock up in front of their business.)
As for airbnb, I do think the city should outlaw any multiple listings and whole house rentals and then leave the others alone; STRers do pay income tax on their earnings and in my mind, offer the opportunity for visitors to become good neighbors and to support amenities such as grocery stores, neighborhood eateries and better public transportation. Actually, I find the blithe acceptance of the massive physical, economic and political cost of skyscraper hotel zones baffling. Why in a town with a huge visitor economy would we want visitors all clustered in one end of town, rather than in small hotels, b&bs and in mother-in-law suites? Why allow so many multi-national and chain companies to benefit from our creative economies and then take most of their money to their corporate homes, leaving us with so little? The gig economy – when done well – can alleviate gaps in earning and can allow creative people time to attend to those ideas and dreams that have been waiting. Let’s try to be creative and comprehensive in our organizing around housing, health care, safe streets, food sovereignty, energy, water management, import-replacing industries and entrepreneurial activity and stop being tools of the system.

About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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