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Politics & Government

2015 City Council Preview: Lavelle, Rudiak, Gross

This is the third in a three-part series looking ahead to the 2015 priorities with members of Pittsburgh City Council. Find part one here and part two here.

“Quality of life” can be a decidedly vague concept, a phrase that’s thrown around without much context. But Councilwomen Natalia Rudiak and Deb Gross and Councilman Daniel Lavelle are looking for concrete ways to improve quality of life in the Steel City.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle

District 6: Hill District, Uptown, Downtown, Oakland, Perry Hilltop, Chateau, Manchester

Affordable Housing: Lavelle said he has one main priority for 2015, and that’s developing a city-wide affordable housing policy. Lavelle has already worked to make sure affordable housing is included in the redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site. The development is adjacent to the Hill District which has a median annual income of just $18,000.

“What we’re also discovering is those at the lowest income levels are being forced to rent up, because there’s actually not enough housing for them," he said. "So they end up spending more dollars to rent a more expensive unit, which just helps keep the cycle of poverty going.”

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak

District 4: Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Mt. Washington, Overbrook

Early Childhood Education: Rudiak has spent the last year pushing for universal pre-K in Pittsburgh. With the help of the Women’s Caucus, she pushed through a bill that would create a loan program for childcare providers to upgrade facilities and curricula. Now that the Heinz Endowments have committed $9 million to improving early childhood education as part of President Obama’s Invest in US initiative, Rudiak sees the possibility for a partnership.

“There may be some additional opportunities for the city of Pittsburgh and the foundation community to collaborate on coordinating resources and efforts,” she said.

URA Oversight: Council recently voted down a budget amendment that would transfer $250,000 out of the city’s demolition budget and give it to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Rudiak was one of four members of Council who voted against the amendment. She said she’d like to see greater oversight of the URA, as well as more of an emphasis on development in the city’s southern and western neighborhoods.

“We’ve seen a lot of money from the URA spent in a few neighborhoods in the East End, and I think myself, Councilman (Bruce) Kraus, and Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, we represent the southern and western neighborhoods, and we’re always interested in saying, where is the URA spending its funds in Southwest Pittsburgh?" she said. "So I think that’s another theme that’s going to emerge.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross

District 7: Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Stanton Heights, Morningside, Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, Strip District

Fighting Blight: Gross’s first major victory as a freshman City Councilwomen was the passage of her land bank bill in April. She said she’ll continue to look for ways to empower residents to improve their neighborhoods.

“Especially around areas of green infrastructure (and) open space," she said. "We already did work in the last year about use of vacant properties. There’s probably some more ways we can help people make real the projects that they want to see happen in their neighborhoods.”

Family Oriented Policies: All members of the Women’s Caucus said they were interested in crafting municipal policy and pursuing initiatives that make life easier for families in Pittsburgh. After decades of decline, families are finally starting to move back into Pittsburgh, which Gross said brings up a whole host of issues.

“Where do you get your groceries?" she said. "How do you get to and from work? How do you get your kids to and from childcare and how are they cared for throughout the day?”