Ravenstahl panel focuses on youth retention

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Pittsburgh should consider cutting realty taxes to lure young homeowners and creating its own immigration agency to boost the city's population, according to the first set of recommendations from a youth-retention panel named by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Pittsburgh charges a 3 percent real estate transfer tax on home purchases, significantly more than its suburban neighbors, which means increased costs for penny-pinching first-time home buyers. On a $100,000 house, a home buyer in the city pays $2,000 more in taxes than in neighboring West View.

Members of Mr. Ravenstahl's Propel Pittsburgh Commission said yesterday that the city should consider a realty tax abatement or waiver program to address that disadvantage. Cutting the taxes would help the city compete for young people, while providing new homeowners with more money to rehabilitate and improve their homes, the commission said.

Another way to boost population is aggressively targeting -- and welcoming -- immigrants to the city. The panel suggested a committee like the "Office of New Bostonians" that Boston created 10 years ago. The office works with immigrant groups to involve newcomers in the economic and cultural life of the city and synthesize immigrants with the existing population.

The panel recommended that the mayor, city council and leaders of city immigrant groups at least call a public hearing on the subject.

"We need to get the ball rolling and get a dialogue going across different groups. Everyone agrees something has to be done," said panel member Rich Gasperini, 28, an industrial real estate broker from the South Side.

Mr. Ravenstahl created the 35-member Propel Pittsburgh Commission in April 2007, after census data showed that only hurricane-ravaged New Orleans lost more residents this decade than Pittsburgh did. The mayor, now 28, asked the panel to study ways to keep young people in the city and required all of its members to be between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report issued to the mayor last night was their first. The Ravenstahl administration and city council is not bound to implement the recommendations, but they could easily work with existing initiatives.

On the realty tax idea, the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority already is paying consultants to study a marketing plan for the city's existing housing programs. They include a different tax abatement plan on newly constructed homes in some city neighborhoods, the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship plan for city students, and existing URA home-buying incentives.

The Propel team also called for meetings among the city and all its universities on retaining college students. That could go hand-in-hand with a meeting Ravenstahl administration officials are holding Dec. 9 with Carnegie Mellon University on city-university collaboration.

Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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