Umbrella group expands outreach in region

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Community development is an unfortunately wonkish sounding term to describe the spark that has enlivened some of Pittsburgh's once-grim neighborhoods.

East Liberty Development Inc. is a shining example, says Ellen Kight.

"Ten years ago, they didn't have a community plan," and the market wasn't interested, she said. "Today, they're not only organized, they're changing the market."

Next month, Ms. Kight will take the reins of the local Oz of community development corporations, the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development. It's a move across town, from the State Office Building, where she has served as regional director of the Department of Community and Economic Development, to the Regional Enterprise Tower.

"Here I am retiring, and still staying in community development," she said. "I have a passion for it." In her 27-year career in the field, she has served the last several on the board of PPND.

The grandmother of 10 from Indiana Township, who is retiring from state government, got a spirited ovation from a crowd of CDC leaders when PPND's acting board chairwoman, Stephanie Cipriani, of National City bank, introduced her at a reception earlier in the week.

"I look forward to working with all of you," said Ms. Kight. "PPND is not only going to be a system for CDCs in the city, but we're going to transfer what we know to other municipalities, which face the same challenges" as city neighborhoods.

Community development is a little world of people who work for neighborhoods they don't necessarily live in and whose nonprofit work is sometimes criticized as sowing the seeds of gentrification. Many who have gone into the demanding and low-paying work say, however, that they are motivated by a sense of justice and the chance to reverse neglect.

"It's just in my blood," said Ms. Kight. "I like to help people find ways to help themselves, to see that they really can make change."

An article in Economic Development Quarterly several years ago reported that the partnership is "one of the earliest citywide CDC networks" in the country. It is now 23 years old and entering a new phase, one based largely on cross-border collaborations and a broader source of funding.

PPND, with support from foundations and corporations, makes grants to CDCs for a variety of reasons -- to help build or train staff, analyze the market and figure out how to attract it, or pay for new trash cans. It has typically been most generous to CDCs that have their acts together.

Recent revisions will include a process to help struggling advocates in struggling neighborhoods get a foot in the door to PPND's investment system; and incentives for multi-neighborhood collaborations, which would also benefit struggling groups.

"What we are asking CDCs to do, because foundations are asking us, is to plan spending that can leverage investment," she said.

PPND will end its two-tiered system -- in which the top tier contained the real estate powerhouses with whom the second tier of CDCs was always competing. In 2009, it will institute incentives for comprehensive CDCs to go after "very substantial" grants over a longer period of time if their proposals will address needs in other neighborhoods.

For instance, East Liberty Development Inc., which has become good at real estate development, both business and housing, could team with a neighborhood that needs both but has little capacity to work the deals.

But real estate isn't the only measure of a CDCs success, she said.

Friendship Development Associates and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. have been transforming Penn Avenue by attracting artists to vacant or underused storefronts and lofts, and one of the strongest nonprofits, Lawrenceville United, has federal Weed and Seed designation in large part for its public-safety program.

"We want to honor initiatives that are not just real estate development," said acting PPND President Maureen Hogan. She said "it's the hope" that PPND can double its funding in three years.

PPND now distributes about $1.5 million a year. This year, it invested in business plans in East Liberty, Friendship, Lawrenceville, the South Side and Oakland. It made substantial grants in Bloomfield and Garfield, Hazelwood, the Strip and Mount Washington.

Starting next year, it will begin a more strategic affiliation with the statewide Local Initiatives Support Corporation, with which it shares a suite of offices. LISC can offer technical help and introduce PPND to a greater variety of funding sources, said Ms. Kight.

A Baltimore native, Ms. Kight came to Pittsburgh to attend Chatham College and stayed. She became active in local politics when she lived in O'Hara and served on the Greater Pittsburgh Commission for Women and the state Women's Political Caucus. She has served on boards including those of the Port Authority and the Local Government Academy. She was also an Act 47 coordinator when the state pulled rank for oversight of the city budget.

In 2004, she was heavily feted, receiving the League of Women Voters' Good Government Award, the H. John Heinz III Award for Community Service from the Mon Valley Initiative and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce's Intergovernmental Cooperation Award.


Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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