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'Stabilization team' to study west Frankstown area

| Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 6:49 p.m.

Traditionally, Pittsburghers do not look to Cleveland for much, except perhaps the twice-yearly occasion to mock the Browns when they play the Steelers.

But Penn Hills officials hope to apply a neighborhood stabilization model used in Cleveland to help reduce blight in certain areas and guide community improvement.

“We have an opportunity with the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Community Information System (PNCIS) representatives from the University of Pittsburgh to use graduate students in conjunction with (Penn Hills) Community Development Corp. volunteers to collect data and produce studies and maps that will better help our community,” Penn Hills Planning Director Howard Davidson told council members.

Robert Gradeck, a research specialist with Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research, will partner with municipal and CDC officials.

“Cleveland has done it,” Gradeck said. “What we're proposing is along the lines of a ‘neighborhood stabilization model' in Cleveland: assembling as much information as possible about the area.”

At monthly team meetings in Cleveland, several people including code enforcement officers, police officers, housing counselors, planners, CDC members and policy experts from Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University gathered to review and prioritize the latest information on properties, track progress on targeted parcels and design interventions for blighted properties and those at risk of abandonment.

In a Federal Reserve Board video on YouTube focusing on the Cleveland project, participants look at “destabilizing factors” — the first home to go into foreclosure on a particular block located across from a community park, for example — and try to find ways to keep the first domino from falling, so to speak.

“You want to deal with what's bad, near what's good, because resources are finite. We can't intervene in every foreclosure,” said Michael Schramm, a member of the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing. “But if we do something strategic, asset-based, we can start to make a difference.”

The free data system is part of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, a research institute housed at Case Western.

The Penn Hills team's efforts will focus on the west Frankstown Road corridor, specifically Blocks 1 and 4 of Census Tract 5232. The borders of Block 1 are Verona Road to the north, Coal Hollow and Old Coal Hollow Road to the east, Frankstown Road to the south, and Robinson Boulevard to the west.

The borders of Block 4 are Frankstown Road to the north, Howard Street to the east, the Wilkinsburg border to the south and Robinson Boulevard to the west. The blocks encompass most of the municipality's Laketon Heights and Eastwood neighborhoods.

The Penn Hills Neighborhood Stabilization Team already has held three meetings, which take place at Laketon Methodist Church on Frankstown Road and have included members of the community, the church and the CDC, said Chris Blackwell of the planning department.

“Block Group 5232 has good housing stock and strong neighborhood assets,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said his department plans to work closely with Gradeck and PNCIS staff “to study and develop a plan to stabilize this and other neighborhoods in Penn Hills.”

Through the combination of the west Frankstown study, along with a new program, CitizenServe, that the planning department is using, “we'll become familiar with new data, data sharing and mapping that will assist us in making a difference in these communities,” Blackwell said.

Anyone interested in attending the next meeting in September is asked to contact the planning department at 412-798-2128.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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