Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Buying out Slumlords Puts a Dent in Crime How Did East Liberty Become Safer? Its Community Development Group Points to a Housing Strategy of Targeting Homes That Housed Criminals

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Buying out Slumlords Puts a Dent in Crime How Did East Liberty Become Safer? Its Community Development Group Points to a Housing Strategy of Targeting Homes That Housed Criminals

Article excerpt

A 2008 map of East Liberty shows Negley Avenue running down the length of a curious red blotch between Penn Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard.

By 2012, the red blotch had dimmed to yellow. The change signified a 49 percent drop in the incidence of crime.

The blotch had covered much of the old residential neighborhood, including Hays, North St. Clair, Mellon and Euclid streets. In the mid-2000s, Eric Jester, then the housing development manager for East Liberty Development Inc., said his and nearby streets were "a steady drumbeat of nonsense. Not just gunfire but street fights, people screaming, hookers propositioning your dinner guests." He said an identifiable number of properties had reduced quality of life to "an existential threat."

"We called the police, but as soon as the police left, it started up again," he said. "We tried code enforcement, we tried yelling, we tried shaming.

"We finally decided it's probably better if we owned the properties."

The result of ELDI's strategic purchase of 200 units from slumlords between 2008 and 2012 is the subject of a 23-page report, released recently by the data analysis firm Numeritics, that reframes East Liberty's narrative of transformation.

For years, it has been built on the commercial investments that poured into the neighborhood through the 2000s - Home Depot in 2000, Whole Foods in 2002 and, more recently, Target and the build out of Eastside. But nobody sleeps at Whole Foods.

"You can stack organic arugula as high as you want, but that doesn't make a neighborhood safe," said Mr. Jester, who left ELDI in 2014 to head his own company, New Burgh Real Estate.

Numeritics, based in East Liberty, provides previous research, data and correlations, academic theories, graphs, charts and citations that describe the result of what ELDI called "the slumlord buyout program," Mr. Jester said.

Through the 2000s, ELDI was buying, renovating and replacing properties for mixed-income buyers, but it intensified its efforts in 2008, going after property owners who allowed criminal behavior as long as tenants didn't complain about lax maintenance.

ELDI's acquisition of both large and small apartment buildings led to renovations and the hiring of effective property managers and off-duty police officers. At the same time, ELDI kept the same racial composition and low rents, Numeritics reported.

As it happens, the nonprofit had acquired 3 percent of the neighborhood's residential rental units, unwittingly hitting the percentage identified in hot-spot theory, which says that 3 percent of locations are responsible for 50 percent of police calls, said Numeritics' research scientist Victoria Hill, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate.

Numeritics' lead economist Tayo Fabusuyi, who also studied at CMU, said a 49 percent drop in crime between 2008 and 2012 within the streets covered by the red blotch was in direct correlation to ELDI's acquisitions. …

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