The following comments were made by Just Harvest’s communications coordinator, Emily Cleath, to Pittsburgh City Council at a public hearing on September 21. Just Harvest joined dozens of community members and housing advocates, including Pittsburgh United (of which Just Harvest is a member) and members of Homes for All–Pittsburgh to comment in support of the city’s proposed legislation to create a Housing Opportunity Fund.
At Just Harvest, we operate on the fundamental principle that we cannot end hunger in this country until we end poverty. And we can’t end poverty by telling people to simply work harder, or to rely on charity, on the efforts of nonprofits, or on good luck.
Ending poverty is a job for government. Only government has the power, wherewithal, and reach to accomplish it.
Don’t believe those who claim, without evidence, that the job of government is to “get out of the way of the private sector” or that poverty is somehow a character flaw. Our job as citizens and yours in government is to make opportunity real for everyone and to lift up those at the bottom.
And who are always at the bottom in this country? People of color, particularly women and their children.
But the housing crisis has grown so immense that it is now affecting most if not all low-income and vulnerable households. Roughly 1 in 5 Pittsburgh households are now paying more than 50% of their income on housing.
They are having to choose between keeping a roof over their heads and putting food on the table. Or they are being pushed to neighborhoods with fewer jobs, less public transit, less community support, and less access to healthy food.
And as long as that is true, Just Harvest and our allies will never be able to solve the hunger problem in this region. Housing is hunger-related and hunger is housing-related.
While affordable housing is a national problem, and federal policy is key to solving it, the city government has a definite role to play as well. The Housing Opportunity Fund is not going to solve the affordable housing shortage in Pittsburgh, but it’s a start—a good one, if not perfect as the specific concerns raised by other housing advocates here tonight address.
But whatever your objections or concerns, keep in mind that as members of City Council you have a special responsibility to undo the harm that Pittsburgh’s economic development policies have caused in recent decades.
Increasing Pittsburgh’s tax base is important. Reversing the city’s population decline is important. But giving free reign and tax breaks to developers has never worked and isn’t working now. Pittsburgh’s population is now less than it was in 2010, and among the people leaving this city are lifelong Pittsburgh residents who simply can’t afford to live here anymore.
These are the people you need to think about when you are deciding whether to vote for the Housing Opportunity Fund. Please take this solid step forward towards helping them.
This bill signals a new approach to economic development and housing in Pittsburgh—one that puts people before profits and creates opportunity for the many instead of wealth for the few.