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A Home to Go to


From Pittsburgh Quote, June 1955. By Roland M. Sawyer

Conversion of the city's Hill District, once known as Haiti, into an area of light and green beauty is a project that has intrigued planners for many years. Now under way is preliminary work destined to result in the elimination of the old "Hill" with its grim alleys and tortured buildings. From their debris will arise modern structures, set amidst lawns and broad walks. Human problems that must be settled before the wreckers go to work were discussed by Roland M. Sawyer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Housing Association, on a recent WQED telecast. Portions of his talk follow.

Very shortly we are to come to grips with a project, the success or failure of which can make or short-circuit our rapidly developing Renaissance. I refer to the Lower Hill District, which is scheduled to be cleared and redeveloped as an extension of the downtown area. Thus for the first time we are faced with a job of slum clearance that not only involves the displacement of a large number of families, but also calls for the relocation of these families in other sections of the community.

When the area in question is redeveloped, it will largely be devoted to commercial and cultural facilities with only a minimum of housing, and that of such character as to be beyond the means of practically all the present site residents. To my mind, the relocation of the families who presently reside in The Lower Hill redevelopment area will constitute a challenge to our citizens and a serious test of their willingness to maintain the pace of the rebuilding and revitalization process that is currently taking place in Pittsburgh.

The extent of the proposed redevelopment area is fairly well known. It is bounded by Tunnel Street at the lowest point, Crawford Street at the top and Bigelow Boulevard and Fifth Avenue on either side. The area encompasses 80 city blocks or approximately 105 acres. A census survey made by the Pittsburgh Housing Association, which I represent, on behalf of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the city of Pittsburgh, reveals that there are approximately 8000 people living in the area; one third are white and two thirds non-white.

Although the income information obtained in the survey indicates that five sixths of the non-whites and about two thirds of the whites in the area are eligible for low rent public housing, there is still an appreciable number of persons and families for whom private housing must be found.

Certainly the relocation in other areas of those families of the majority group who can afford to purchase private housing should not present undue difficulty in this instance, but the rehousing of even the limited number of non-white families in the area whose incomes are too great to enable them to qualify for public housing presents a serious problem to which our community must give thoughtful consideration.

Non-white citizens here are, of course, in hearty accord with the plans to redevelop The Lower Hill. Indeed, having been compelled to live in run-down areas with inadequate community facilities, they might be expected to support such types of urban rebuilding with added enthusiasm. But like most people, they look also to any special effects which slum clearance may have upon them and they reason from their experience. Crowded within the oldest sections of most cities, non-white groups occupy the very areas which often are most ripe for clearance and highly desirable for redevelopment. Logic would seem to dictate that any displacement of these families should be prefaced by action to increase the housing supply accessible to them. The more extensive slum clearance involving minority families is to be, the clearer is the necessity for accomplishing that expansion both by the construction of new housing and by opening to such families the existing housing supply.


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