South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Hilltop learns more about how to apply for federal Weed and Seed program


The new Allentown Community Development Corp., formerly the Allentown Civic Association, met on October 26, with Pres. Judy Hackel explaining the name change to start the meeting.

The other speakers were city Councilman Jeff Koch, Corey J. Connors, coordinator of the city's Weed and Seed program, and Zone 3 police Commander RaShall Brackney.

Mrs. Hackel said forming a CDC paves the way for more funding options. The new name was also a way to combine the Allentown civic and business associations. The CDC will retain 501(c) non-profit status.

“We're trying to improve the quality of life in Allentown,” she said of the group's goal. For more information, see:

Mr. Koch told attendees to call his office about any boarded-up or condemned houses within 1,000 feet of a school. Under Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan, those homes could be torn down.

To a question of whether homes located near closed schools can be razed, Mr. Koch said yes, as long as they appear on city maps.

He also said he recently did a walk-through of the vacant hostel at Arlington and Warrington avenues as a possible new site for the Zone 3 police station, or other uses.

The councilman reported the city has taken delivery of two steam cleaners for graffiti removal.

He also said when new police Chief Nate Harper appeared before council, he told him neighborhoods like Carrick and the South Side need help with graffiti. The chief said he would assign more officers to the matter.

In his presentation about Weed and Seed, Mr. Connors said it is a joint federal, state, and local coordinated law enforcement and community investment initiative sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Justice under the local leadership of the Mayor's Office and the U.S. Attorney.

“It is a strategy, rather than a grant program,” he said.

The multi-agency strategy is to “weed out” violent crime, gang activity, drug use, and drug trafficking by targeting high-crime neighborhoods. The target area is then “seeded” by helping to restore those neighborhoods through social and economic revitalization.

Only three federal sites are permitted in a city at one time.

The U.S. Congress has capped funding for a site at $1 million over five years. The city must also contribute a 25 percent matching amount each year.

That means a first year federal funding amount of $175,000 requires almost $44,000 from the city via grants or other sources.

After five years, it is up to the community to sustain the program with assistance from the city, Mr. Connors said.

The federal Weed and Seed grant process is competitive. Of the 210 letters of intent submitted nationwide in July to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, only 30 will be chosen for funding next year.

The city has two Weed and Seed sites. The first, in East Liberty, also includes Larimer and Garfield.

It is funded until fiscal year 2007.

The second, in Lawrenceville, is funded until fiscal year 2010.

Currently, two other areas are vying to become another site: the West End and North Side.

The West End submitted a letter of intent in July. If chosen for an award, it would be funded from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011.

The North Side plans to submit a letter in July 2007. If chosen for an award, it would be funded from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2012.

To a question of how Allentown can be considered as a Weed and Seed site, Mr. Koch said he held a meeting in his office on October 18 that was attended by 30 officials and local residents interested in submitting an application.

That was a first step, to be followed by the formation of a steering committee and creating a neighborhood assessments survey. A decision must also be made on what neighborhoods to include in the application.

For the next funding cycle, a letter of intent will have to be submitted by July, 2007. An application that includes Allentown could be competing with the North Side and West End, Mr. Connors said.

An attendee asked if the award goes instead to North Side or the West End, could the crime wave move out of those areas and into ours?

Mr. Connors said it is a concern, and that the experts understand that.

In her crime statistics for Allentown from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26, Commander Brackney reported 1 business burglary, 1 theft from auto and 2 thefts from persons, 12 drug arrests, and 2 prostitution arrests.

When prostitutes are arrested, the officers track the women to the drug suppliers.

She has assigned two detectives to look for graffiti vandals at night as “that's when these kids are out.” The detectives have goggles for night vision.

She also said Chief Harper has said all commanders will stay where they are, which pleased many attendees.

An attendee remarked that he is seeing more plainclothes officers than ever before.

“Plainclothes are very effective,” said the commander, noting she rewards good performances by officers with the duty.

Mrs. Hackel said she calls officers non-stop. In the past, they were a bit abrupt, she said, but these days they are “most courteous” and “polite, mannerly.”

She also said there is much interest in properties in Allentown. “There are people looking at this neighborhood.” She said she has heard real estate agents call the area the “Upper South Side Slopes.”

To an attendee's question of whether anyone is looking at the eight new homes on Beltzhoover Ave built by the South Side Local Development Co., Mrs. Hackel said two are sold. Eight more will be built to bring the total to 16 new homes.

To a question about Section 8 housing, Mr. Koch said tenants receive housing vouchers to live wherever they choose as long as the property is sanctioned as Section 8.

To a question of whether there is a limit to the number of Section 8 tenants in one neighborhood, he said no.

But if there is a drug violation, a tenant can be removed from the program and would have to re-apply for reinstatement.

To an attendee's complaint about the Section 8 landlords, another attendee — a Section 8 landlord — said not all landlords are bad. Before he rents a property he conducts a credit check, and won't renew leases of troublesome tenants.

At the meeting's conclusion, Maureen Kennedy and Michael Assad, ACDC AmeriCorps VISTAs, asked attendees to contact them if they are interested in starting a block watch.

They also handed out silent complaint forms; completed forms will be given to the police to alert them to the types of problems the community is facing. Residents may remain anonymous.

Forms may be returned to the CDC office at 813 E. Warrington Ave. You may also call 412-481-0266, ext. 12.

The next meeting will be on Nov. 29.


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