Burned Out Building, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Zack K’s photostream

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh is charged with improving the city’s economic state by growing the tax base, increasing job opportunities, and generally improving the quality of life for Pittsburghers. However, the focus of the URA is too often on large downtown development projects and retail complexes and not on smaller-scale neighborhood revitalization and creating affordable residential opportunities. We need to refocus the URA to transform it into a neighborhood-focused organization that works hand-in-hand with developers and community organizations to rebuild Pittsburgh from the ground up.

1. Fighting Blight

One of the URA’s strongest mechanisms for change is its ability to purchase tax delinquent, derelict properties. Blighted properties decrease neighboring property values, discourage development, and lower community morale, among other negative effects. A URA task force for the express purpose of aggressively pursuing blighted properties for redevelopment or demolition would increase the organization’s ability to combat the expansion of blight and offer neighborhoods an opportunity to attract new residents and businesses.

This URA task force could be a pilot project to test the viability of an independent fully functioning land bank in Pittsburgh now that the General Assembly has provided us with the authority to create one.

2. Expanding Aid to Homeowners

One of the root causes of blight is that many residents simply don’t have the financial resources to keep up their homes, especially in a tough economy. The URA’s existing Consumer Housing Program, which includes aid for emergency home repairs, should be expanded to provide low-interest or no-interest loans to homeowners to make repairs before they turn into emergencies. By tackling the repairs before they become emergencies, the URA will decrease the costs of repairs, provide a necessary support to homeowners in need, and increase property values and improve neighborhoods block by block.

3. Rebuilding Business Districts

New business start-ups create more jobs, more neighborhood benefits, and more tax dollars than bigger, flashier buildings for existing businesses; however, we spent millions of dollars a year subsidizing development projects for large companies. We should shift our focus to larger investments in our neighborhood businesses districts that need them and smaller, targeted investments in only the most beneficial large projects.