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City Officials Unveil New Legislation To Report, Resolve Racial Inequity

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Ricky Burgess is a co-sponsor of new legislation to address racial inequality citywide

Pittsburgh City Councilors Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle are unveiling legislation to address racial inequality on Tuesday, the latest in a series of moves intended to include marginalized communities in the city’s much-touted resurgence. The legislation will require additional reporting from city officials and developers about their efforts on behalf of, and their impacts on, low-income residents and racial minorities in the city.

Burgess and Lavelle will discuss the legislation at an afternoon press conference with Mayor Bill Peduto, who himself announced the creation of an “Office of Equity” to address racial disparities last week. The office is headed by a top deputy, Majestic Lane.

Today’s legislative package focuses largely on increased reporting requirements intended to quantify the size of those disparities, and the progress being made toward resolving them. The effort is part an “All-In City” initiative to increase racial equity in development and governance, and strives to have officials “embed equity and inclusive practices within city departments.” The legislation’s preamble asserts that “a pervasive sense exists that there are 'two Pittsburghs': one which grows more prosperous with each passing day and the other, cut off from opportunity by poverty, structural racism and discrimination.”

“Pittsburgh’s racial, economic, and geographic inequities are no mere moral challenge, but an existential threat to the city’s long-term resilience and prosperity,” it adds.

One of the bills requires each unit of city government to undertake a review of expenditures as part of the capital budget process. Departments would have to itemize the goods and services the department provides, and to document those investments by neighborhood, with an eye towards how much money is spent in poorer areas eligible for federal community-development spending.

Departments would be obliged to describe their progress toward achieving racial equity, and to explain when their investments fall short of goals.

City officials would also have to report on their use of contractors, identify details of the contracts along with the name, race, gender, and location of the vendor. They’d also have to document their efforts “to diversity the pool of potential vendors.”

The second bill envisions the creation of an “Equity and Inclusion Implementation Team,” that consists of a half-dozen city officials, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Equal Opportunity Review Commission, and the Civil Service Commission. The team’s purpose will be to monitoring progress toward racial equity within city departments, and to provide training and other support when needed. The team would be required to hold public meetings twice a year “to report out to the community the progress made” on improving inclusion.

The third bill requires an “Affordable Housing Impact Statement” be compiled by developers.

Residential projects would be obliged to document the “housing impact of the development on the surrounding community” which includes the type of housing, “the targeted market demographics” of the residents it hopes to attract, and the number of housing units that would be razed for construction. For projects that don’t provide residential developments, developers will provide an analysis of “anticipated housing demand and affordability level of housing needed” to serve it.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.