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Rev. Burgess banks on land




by Christian Morrow
Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Rickey Burgess will tell you his philosophy has essentially always been “go big or go home.”
He said as much again during a Jan. 4 meeting with the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board arranged by state Rep. Jake Wheatley, adding that his latest “big” plan for his district is a land bank plan that would allow for wholesale redevelopment and blight removal via a regional Community Development Corporation.
“Imagine Homewood with no abandoned, overgrown lots or derelict housing. Just the physical difference in blight reduction would change how people feel about their community,” he said.  “I have the money to do Homewood South and Larimer.”
Reverend Burgess said he has the money to “recycle” former Homewood-Brushton Revitalization Development Corp. properties that have fallen into disrepair, to clean vacant lots and to hire a director for a new regional CDC that could evaluate housing stock for demolition or rehabilitation.
“My focus going forward will be economic development. I advocate for Black communities and am dedicated to making structural change,” he said. “A regional CDC for African-American communities can create opportunities of scale not only with development by with ongoing property management.”
With himself serving on the board of the Housing Authority of the city of Pittsburgh, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle on the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority board, and assistance from Wheatley and fellow state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, whose background was in economic development, Burgess said the city’s Black neighborhoods will see change rather than talk.
“As Danny said, we have to sell more than just a home,” said Rev. Burgess. “We can’t just use public funds, we need private investment too. I do not just want to build more concentrated poverty.”
Reverend Burgess said he has $300,000 ready to begin rehabilitating properties and that foundation funding is already in place to hire a director for the regional CDC that would coordinate these efforts throughout the city’s East End neighborhoods. And, as he usually does, Rev. Burgess said his efforts would be mostly fruitless were it not for the support of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
“This mayor has put more resources into Black neighborhoods than any in the last 20 years,” he said. “When I told him some of the things I wanted to do, he just said, ‘go ahead, I’ll support you.’ And he has. “
Last month, the $11 million first phase of a five-part housing and retail development called Homewood Station broke ground adjacent to the East Busway. When completed the project will included 41 units of mixed income apartments as well as retail space and a café.  The first phase is scheduled for completion in December.
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