Black Political Empowerment Project leader urging pause in Homewood demolitions

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Citing a high number of demolitions in Homewood, the Black Political Empowerment Project has requested a moratorium on demolitions in predominantly black neighborhoods in the city and Allegheny County -- unless the buildings pose a public safety threat -- so that public officials and community advocates can discuss alternatives.

"These demolitions are happening at a level that's unacceptable," said Tim Stevens, CEO of the organization. "Every day, another house gone. This physical deterioration almost echoes a collective mental and spiritual deterioration."

Mr. Stevens has sent letters to city and county officials to request a "time out" and has called on people to attend Wednesday's City Council meeting to voice their concerns.

He said he has not gotten responses from anyone yet. City officials could not be reached to comment on the number of demolitions in Homewood, but Mr. Stevens said he learned that 231 buildings in that neighborhood are condemned.

Homewood is just one example of neighborhoods that Mr. Stevens said are being undermined by demolitions.

He cited programs that train youths to learn construction and renovation skills as one solution, both to the deterioration of houses and the need for jobs and job training in black communities.

"Let's tap existing programs to strengthen them so they can train more people to maintain our housing stock and maybe bring back a sense of connection," he said.

He said he wants to meet with elected officials to talk about demolitions and whether they have become systematic in black communities and whether city and county government could better monitor and seek alternatives to turn the tide.

In his letter, he stated that housing stock is one of any neighborhood's greatest assets, and that large numbers of demolitions are "not only a harm to the image of the community but also an extreme waste of public resources, as the money allocated to tear down these homes could instead by reallocated to rehab many" of them.

"At Lang and Idlewild, it almost looks like you're in the woods so many houses have been knocked down," he said.

Youths in high-demolition neighborhoods could at least be employed to maintain the numerous vacant lots, he said.

In dense neighborhoods, people can come out and talk to their neighbors, he said. "If there is one building on a block, that person has no one to come out and talk to. There is a psychological impact on a community when this happens. The connectedness of a community is about having housing stock so people have neighbors."

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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