An Annotated Response to Peduto’s “Equity Action In Pittsburgh”

Anonymous submission received on 07.28.20

Annotated Response to “Equity Action In Pittsburgh” [an official press release from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s government].


Under Mayor William Peduto the City of Pittsburgh has taken a number of actions to drive real change and reform. He established an Office of Equity — only the fifth such office in the country, run by Chief Equity Officer Majestic Lane — and implemented many other efforts that included:

First of all, this was a renaming of the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment. Secondly, Ricky Burgess had this idea in 2012. Third, the office’s annual “equity indicators” report (ironically the 2019 report is late) doesn’t suggest immediately implementable policy changes, it’s only a measure of our inequity.

* Joining the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), leading to citywide training in racial equity and establishing racial equity toolkits for every City department to use when budgeting

There’s no evidence showing such training programs work. If they are to succeed, they must be accompanied by comprehensive change throughout the organization, and this is something we haven’t seen in the City’s hiring. Additionally, this contract was for a whole $26,235.

* Reforming the City’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, leading to a 37% increase in contracts to minority and women-owned businesses

Avoiding the real numbers here is certainly an interesting choice. Only a portion of City contracting is subject to review from the EORC, but even that has declined in recent years, after Peduto received significant criticism. In 2019, the amount reviewed was $37.5 million, whereas in 2010 it was $272 million, and $205 million in 2017. What’s changed? Are more sole-source (exempt) contracts being procured? The budget isn’t transparent if it can’t answer these basic questions.

MWBE only refers to ownership, it’s not a panacea for a lack of equity in hiring, not to mention that a greater share of last year’s percentage are WBE, who are most often White, which is not what we mean when we say we’re demanding equity and justice for historical wrongs.

* Established the Housing Opportunity Fund within the URA, using $10 million in city funds annually to establish the Rental Gap, Homeowner Assistance, Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance, Housing Stabilization, and For-Sale Development programs; overseeing rental and mortgage assistance programs for those impacted by COVID-19; and the citywide Roof-a-Thon which will provide a total of 24 homes in Pittsburgh between $30,000-$35,000 worth of home repairs and a new roof

In 2016, when the enabling legislation for the HOF was passed, Peduto let Council deal with bickering of how to fund it. This can be seen as completely normal in a Mayor-Council government, but what it’s definitely not is a real, “driven,” change led by Peduto. The best he did was offer his typical empty promise of directing what would otherwise be PILOTs to his proposed privately-run ONEPGH.

More recently, his Chief of Staff pushed for an increase to the AMI eligible for down payment costs (from 80% to 115%), because they’re concerned not enough young white homeowners with college debt can take advantage of it. (Original bill here, and a look at the URA website will come up short for any references to the former PHOP, which is what the exception was made for.)

When you see a housing crisis and are more concerned about helping people with above average incomes participate in the private mortgage market (aka, the status quo) than you are about building publicly-owned social housing, you’re not “driving change.”

* Established the Office of Gender Equity, released the Gender Equity Commission’s groundbreaking “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race” report in 2019, and became the 6th U.S. city to approve a CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) ordinance

“Groundbreaking,” is an interesting word choice to describe what Black women have been telling the City for decades. No action has been taken on the report, as evidenced by the lack of even a cursory reference to anything remotely related on this list; this is no win for equity.

* Established the online Housing Assistance Resource Portal (HARP) to connect residents to organizations and resources that will help them buy a home.

This is brand new, but even if it weren’t, it’d likely show no equity improvements. Surely we’re all aware now that the problem isn’t the lack of financial ownership in housing (aka: debt), it’s the lack of agency, control, and safety. An elected Housing Authority board, a free eviction defense program, and a code enforcement system not driven by complaints that can easily be traced back to tenants, would all go much further in terms of people feeling invested and secure in their homes.

* Proposed and signed the City’s first Inclusionary Zoning Overlay District ordinance, which requires that all new developments in rapidly growing Lawrenceville include at least 10% affordable units

Peduto has spoken out against this as part of a City-wide housing solution, and only supported this specific change because the “community” demanded it, which is the exact system of Pittsburgh parochial NIMBYism (ensconced as policy under Pete Flaherty’s Planning department, intended to produce a veneer of objectivity relative to the contemporaneous Democratic Ward Chair problems while neither he, nor any administration since, actually sought meaningful change) that has allowed our historical divides to dig in and hold on, for generations.

* Established free Financial Empowerment Centers to assist low-income residents with their personal finances, which has helped 557 people save a combined $319,777 and reduce their debts by $223,417 total

Lower income people don’t have a greater problem with financial literacy than middle income people, what they have is a lack of livable wages that allows them to make the same mistakes that middle income people do. Refundable tax credits at the City-level would do more to alleviate poverty. Paying part-time City staff $15/hr would also be a good step.

* Implemented expansion of “ban the box” on criminal convictions when applying for City jobs.

I can’t find anything to support this claim.

* Implemented a ban on salary history on job applications

This is nearly meaningless as a government employer, where most jobs are unionized or otherwise subject to pay scales, which are available for the public to see. Claims of hiring discrimination at the City have never been an issue of previous salary for exactly these reasons.

* Created the Rec2Tech program, which transforms our recreation centers into after-school learning hubs

Okay. The Northside has a total of 1 rec center. Not only are there not nearly as many tech jobs as Peduto believes in, but perhaps this isn’t a path to equity when we’re not even providing children with basic rec centers, tech programs or not.

* Joined the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which coordinates with partners throughout the city and region to build opportunities and a brighter future for young Black men

This concept has been criticized by many people as being based in respectability politics, but all I want to say is: the impact of any project for the benefit of young Black men would be multitudes greater if you hired them to work for the city, instead of the (mostly) young white men who are hired (Police, Fire, EMS) or contracted (DOMI, DPW, Planning, Law).

Just last year, the administration pushed two bills, which Council passed (here and here), that simplify the contracting process with numerous entities, reducing transparency around contracting, and all but assuring that the City won’t hire diverse candidates, be able to hold onto institutional knowledge, or leave room for apprenticeships or training that leads to career advancement; many City staffers could be better at their jobs if they weren’t stuck managing contractors.

The City “encourages” contractors to hire 25% minority and 10% women, but to what extent the contractors actually hit those goals doesn’t appear to be publicly available, and contractor status as a MWBE doesn’t tell us anything about whether they engage in discriminatory hiring practices, nor what they do to bridge equity gaps in their respective fields. Again, the City could be the real changemaker here, offering apprenticeships to abate the systemic racism of Pittsburgh trade unions, reserve City internships for City residents, and find other ways to break down equity barriers caused by racism.

* Created the Summer Learn & Earn program, which connects nearly 2,000 underserved residents in the region between the ages of 14 and 21 with six-week summer jobs

The city has had numerous summer jobs programs in the past, this is just a straight-up weird claim. The program has also never been evaluated for having an effect on equity disparities.

* Supported the URA’s Catapult program, the business incubation program for minority and women entrepreneurs who want to start a business, or existing businesses looking to grow

This was a URA-funded program; so “support” means you thought it was a good idea? More importantly, there’s no evidence that entrepreneurship has any effect on wealth or economic mobility, nor has it ever proven to increase equity.

* Joined 12 select cities nationwide in the Mayors for Guaranteed Income pilot, to help those with low and moderate incomes

Again, another brand new thing. Without any details whatsoever, it’s hard to take this any more seriously than the failed ONEPGH privatization project. But we agree, now would be a great time to implement a local EITC and a rent rebate for the majority of residents who are subsidizing the minority who own their own homes and have homestead exemptions.

* Distributed thousands of free books to children through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library

Dolly is doing this, not the City. Why even list this? Stop it.

* Established the Welcoming Pittsburgh office protecting and supporting the city’s immigrant community

This was a national program, not an internal, “driven,” change. Ultimately, it’s a report that produced no equity driven changes, though there sure has been a lot of talking about things. Let’s never forget how Peduto conflated refugees with FBI entrapment of a vulnerable young adult.

* Improved infrastructure such as sidewalks and countdown pedestrian signals in minority communities like Homewood that were long underinvested

Homewood is being gentrified, this is nothing new. Take responsibility for sidewalks city-wide, and you’d have an equity win. The current process benefits only private contractors while being incredibly confusing for property owners to deal with, while also consuming valuable staff time from DPW and the Law Department. It would literally be cheaper to implement a 5- or 10-year program for making sidewalks accessible to all, as ADA requires, instead of waiting for every neighborhood to be gentrified.

* Won federal support of the community-driven Larimer Choice project, which includes hundreds of mixed-income housing units and a new neighborhood park space

This was awarded in 2014, just after he took office, it’s clearly not a Peduto administration-derived equity win.

* Approved important gun safety ordinances following the Tree of Life massacre

This is actually a wasteful lawsuit that, if won, would only serve to further criminalize the same communities harmed by our existing gun policies. It’s important to note that these bills were demanded by White people, and there’s little similar concern for the gun violence that affects Black residents, or what ordinances they want to see.

* Established the civil affairs unit within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, increased staffing in the PBP’s Neighborhood Resource Officer and Community Resource Officer beats, and invested further in the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program

An increase of staffing does nothing to remove officers from patrols, to prevent them from harming people. Additionally, the PBP has a relatively low ratio of non-sworn staff to sworn officers, which increases the size of the FOP, whose members require higher pension payments than other City staff.

* Required implicit bias training for police and all City departments

There’s no proof such training works; systemic change is necessary.

* Supported use-of-force legislation introduced by state Representatives Summer Lee and Ed Gainey, and called on state leaders to take action to amend Act 111 and allow municipalities to release police body camera footage

This is not a win for equity, the bill went nowhere.

* Agreed with American Civil Liberties Union to change police interview process for applicants in effort to boost minority hiring.

Several things are happening in this sentence. The case was ultimately about subjectivity and nepotism in hiring, which, in a white supremacist system, harms Black applicants more than White applicants; it was in no way about “boosting” minority hiring, this is an obfuscation, and it’s easy to “agree” in hindsight with something you roundly lost on. Peduto has done worse at “diverse” hiring than any of his recent predecessors, even as he expanded the force to levels not seen since the 1980s and 1990s, when the wars on drugs, crime, and poverty hit their stride and ruined entire communities.

We’re also supposed to walk away from this one with the inference that minority police behave in a less harmful or racist way, or may be less likely to kill, but none of these implications are proven. “We can’t get trapped into thinking that individual police officers can change systems.”

Further, the year that lawsuit was settled (2015), the ACLU filed another for First Amendment violations, for residents cited for attempting to record officers. The main officer in that case was promoted to sergeant, in 2019, by Peduto.

* Signed President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Pledge, which charges the City with reforming our Police Bureau with community input

A signature doesn’t improve equity. Listing MBK twice makes this list seem extra desperate.

* Oversaw five years of declining crime rates, including the lowest number of homicides in 20 years

This is a statement of fact, not an equity accomplishment. There’s no proof that any action taken by the City has contributed to this, it’s a national phenomenon.

* Launched the Office of Community Health and Safety, which will utilize social and public health services rather than policing to respond to certain situations in the community.

This is new, it’s not an equity improvement until proven so by its work. Shifting funding from the PBP budget would be a good first step. It’s not hard.

* Collaborated with Allegheny County and CONNECT to implement a pre-arrest diversion program for people who commit low-level crimes stemming from behavioral health issues, including those whose crimes are related mental health and poverty as well problematic substance use

This is new, too. Further, it is funded by a grant from the County, and therefore requires little in terms of substantive change and commitment from the City.

In conclusion, I yield my time, fuck you.


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