South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Agencies make pitch for CDBG funds during meeting in South Side


August 31, 2010

A public hearing to solicit input on the city's 2011 capital budget and the 2011 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program drew about 30 people to the South Side Market House on Aug. 19.

The moderator of the 45-minute gathering was Kim Graziani, the city's director of Neighborhood Initiatives. She was assisted by the department's community outreach coordinator, Christie Berger.

The panel of city officials was comprised of Cathy Qureshi, assistant finance director; John Jennings, acting chief, Bureau of Building Inspection; Lou Ann Horan, fiscal supervisor, Dept. of Parks and Recreation; Tom Cummings, director of housing, Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh; Mike Gable, deputy director, Dept. of Public Works; and Joy Abbott, assistant director, City Planning.

The panel did not comment during the residents' comment period — during which each speaker had three minutes to talk — but were available at the event's closing to answer questions.

The first speaker was Judy Wagner, of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, who expressed thanks to the city for the gateway gardens. She displayed images of the attractive gardens to show the impact of city support.

She also held up a before/after picture of the garden at Frankstown Ave. and Bennett St. which she said was once "a typical vacant lot in the city of Pittsburgh."

About 11,000 volunteers will be planting and tending gardens this year, she said.

"It really makes us feel good," is the answer, she said, she gives when asked what drives the volunteers.

Next, George Moses, of Homewood, spoke about the CDBG program.

He said the grants were designed to help low-income residents improve their quality of life. Instead, infrastructure projects go to big, for-profit corporations.

"CDBG must go to communities. That is what the money is for," he said.

Margaret Eldridge, of North Side, said some community development organizations could be forced to close programs if city funding does not increase.

Lauren Byrne, of Lawrenceville, said CDBG funds helped repair blighted properties in Lawrenceville. It was a factor in the 56 percent reduction in crime from 2002 to 2009 in that neighborhood, she said.

Next, Karen Brean, of the Community Technical Assistance Center, said CTAC builds and strengthens community-based organizations. In the past 10 months, it worked with 52 organizations.

Jessica Ruffin, of Beltzhoover, spoke on behalf of Amachi Pittsburgh, which mentors children who have a parent in jail. There are currently more than 7,000 in Allegheny County. Such children are more at-risk for drug usage, she said.

Amachi is hoping to expand its services. Ms. Ruffin said she wanted Amachi to be considered for CDBG funds.

Attorney Paul O'Hanlon, of the Disability Rights Network of Pa., said he opposed the draft budget plan as it addresses the needs of the rich but not the low-income.

Next, a Brookline woman with a disability said the disabled communities in Brookline and Beechview are "struggling." Both have been ignored, she said, as have other city neighborhoods like East Liberty.

"Every community is important," she said.

Next, a man who is deaf said other deaf people who are financially able leave Pittsburgh due to lack of resources. He would like to set up a nursing home for special needs deaf people but needs financial help to do so.

The low-income deaf need help, he said.

The meeting concluded with a rabbi speaking of the need for funds for an organization which offers services to Jewish inmates upon leaving prison.


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