Media Coverage | Presley Gillespie and Bruce Katz: ARP money should go where it’s needed most

Mar 7, 2022

PRESLEY GILLESPIE AND BRUCE KATZ | Friday, March 4, 2022 | Read the full article

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden March 11, represents a critical commitment to rebuilding the communities harmed by the covid-19 pandemic and is an unprecedented investment in our economy. The $1.9 trillion in federal dollars can be used for purposes as wide ranging as housing, workforce development and small business growth. Additionally, Biden and congressional leaders made the important decision to center equity in the policymaking process.

In an effort to guide regional decision-makers, Neighborhood Allies is launching the Equitable Recovery Playbook which is designed to activate American Rescue Plan dollars and direct resources into communities that need them most.

The playbook is guided by the following principles:

• Communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic — Black and brown neighborhoods and low-income areas — need the greatest level of attention, creative solutions and investment;

• Policymakers will be best positioned to invest in those communities when presented with viable and discrete options; and

• The size and scope of fiscal stimulus means that we can make strategic and catalytic investments, in addition to tactical ones.

The playbook’s growing list of fundable projects and programs includes more than $32 million in opportunities around real estate investment and blight mitigation, small business growth, credit building, home ownership, and housing affordability.

Neighborhood Allies is working with partner organizations throughout the region, such as the Hill District Federal Credit Union, which needs $1 million to expand credit availability and banking services in a historically Black community, and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, which is ready to make $1.1 million in home repairs in Homewood. Importantly, these projects are ready to go now and will quickly invest American Rescue Plan dollars into the economy.

The Equitable Recovery Playbook builds on work done by the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University. The lab led an effort to develop a federal investment guide for both the American Rescue Plan, and the more recently passed infrastructure bill, that clearly illustrates how state and local governments can take full advantage of new federal funding streams and increases to existing programs.

But nearly a year after the American Rescue Plan was passed, most of the money remains unspent. Furthermore, legislators, civic leaders and corporate entities have yet to develop strategies that leverage public dollars and scale impact, failing to make the most of the opportunity at hand. This is a moment that requires multi-sector collaboration and should not be wasted.

In Pennsylvania, just over $1 billion of the $7.3 billion in state fiscal relief has been appropriated. Allegheny County budgeted $100 million of its $380 million allocation in September 2021, but it has released no information on the uses or expected timing of the remaining amount. In the City of Pittsburgh, former Mayor Bill Peduto and City Council successfully appropriated all $335 million in fiscal stimulus funds allocated to the city. However, much of that money remains sidelined: $5 million for affordable housing preservation, $10 million for home repairs and $21 million for new homeownership have been encumbered by bureaucracy, with none of it achieving its intended purpose as of yet.

Meanwhile, communities and families continue to struggle. Approximately one-third of Pittsburgh households are cost-burdened (defined as spending more than 30% of income on housing), according to a 2016 housing needs assessment completed in Pittsburgh. The problem has surely worsened as the region’s employment level has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels and remains 1.5% above the national rate.

The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing discrepancies in prosperity between white Pittsburghers and Black Pittsburghers. Nationally, the age-adjusted death rate of covid-19 for Blacks is nearly four times that of whites, according to Brookings. In 2019 Pittsburgh received the unfortunate distinction of being the worst city in America for Black women based on four factors studied by University of Pittsburgh researchers: health, income, employment and education.

Underlying the legacy of racial and gender inequality in Pittsburgh are barriers to individual wealth building that are faced by women, people of color and low-income people across the county: low credit and credit invisibility; insufficient personal savings for business, home or education; and limited and unpredictable income leads to financial fragility.

To direct resources into these areas and to increase the quality of life for all people, we need our leaders to act. As outlined in the Equitable Recovery Playbook, community-based organizations and businesses have no shortage of good ideas or critical needs. We cannot waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebalance our economy and make equitable decisions about how we invest in Pittsburgh communities.

Presley Gillespie is president and CEO of Neighborhood Allies. Bruce Katz is founding director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University.

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA