Buhl Foundation sets sights on North Side

Survey of residents to define priorities

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A census team hired by a consultant to the Buhl Foundation will be on the streets of the North Side in the next few weeks to reach as many of the area's 40,940 residents as possible to help guide foundation investments -- potentially $60 million -- over the next 10 to 20 years.

The foundation board began 2014 with a decision to flip the proportion of its giving, from 20 percent to the North Side to 80 percent, vice president Diana Bucco said.

When it was formed in 1927, the Buhl Foundation was a leading regional benefactor, but it now accounts for about 2 percent of total local foundation giving, she said.

"That begged the question: Should we continue to be regional or have a greater impact with a focused strategy?" she said. "The South Side, Lawrenceville and East Liberty have all made so much improvement. We think the North Side ought to be next."

The foundation expects to invest $3 million to $4 million a year, or $40 million to $60 million over the course of the commitment, she said. The move springs from the foundation's historic support of the North Side, where Henry Buhl, whose estate created the foundation, lived and made his fortune as a partner in the Boggs & Buhl Department Store.

The foundation has given to the Children's Museum, Carnegie Science Center, National Aviary, Light of Life Rescue Mission, Pittsburgh Project, Allegheny Commons Park, plans for the Federal-North redevelopment and for vacant lot beautification.

Mrs. Bucco said the North Side's "greatest assets are the people. They are among the most passionate, diverse and committed in the city."

North Side neighborhoods include Chateau, with the smallest population, 11 people; Brighton Heights, the largest with 7,247; affluent Allegheny West; the public housing community of Northview Heights; the mostly white, low-income Spring Garden; and the Central Northside, with a 50-50 mix of black and white residents with a wide range of incomes.

While about 20 percent of North Siders are living in poverty, which is slightly below the city average, about 40 percent of its children are living in poverty, which is higher than the city average due to the rate of one-parent households, Ms. Bucco said.

"We have data that show us where catalytic grants could be game-changers," she said.

The foundation wants to help families break the dependency that sustains generational poverty so that it can improve educational and job outlooks and quality of life on the streets. These transformations are expected to take one to two decades, she said.

Lauren Stauffer, a community organizer for the Brighton Heights Civic Association, is the outreach coordinator for the census. She said the foundation and its partnering neighborhood organizations will build community profiles "to determine where financial resources are needed and where resources can be built upon."

Door knocking began this week and will conclude by early July, she said.

"Buhl has said they want to focus on long-term generational investment in places and people," said Pat Clark, a principal at Jackson Clark Partners, the Buhl Foundation's consultant. "The census and other data will go into long-term planning, but we also want to look at this as a household-by-household way to be aware of people who have specific needs. It's not just data but about getting people to contribute their voices."

Jackson Clark has conducted census and data collection for the Heinz Endowment in Hazelwood and for the Larimer master plan.

The North Side census will contribute to work done in the past year and a half when the foundation collected data and input from about 400 North Side residents, employees, employers and civic leaders, Ms. Bucco said. From that group, teams formed around each of three priorities -- quality of place, education and employment. They have been meeting since March. All the groups will convene in July to share action plans and census results.

For the survey, Jackson Clark will visit 2,500 households in California-Kirkbride, Marshall Shadeland, Northview Heights, Perry South and Spring Garden. The other 13 neighborhoods will get mailings and online surveys.

The census "will help us prepare long-term strategies," Ms. Stauffer said, "but nobody wants to wait 25 years to see anything happen. There will be some things to get moving on soon."

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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