In our Revisiting the Vision series, we are looking at community members’ visions of East Liberty in 2020 as described at the end of the 2010 East Liberty Community Plan. 12 years later, much of what they said turned out to be prophetically accurate.

Point Two: Creating a Stable, Mixed-income Neighborhood

At the end of East Liberty’s 2010 Community Plan, stakeholders wrote:

Twenty years ago, the housing stock in a largely vacant East Liberty was crumbling, and residents had very few housing options. When ELDI began assembling blighted properties and working with partners to create housing of choice, the residential core experienced a true revitalization…The addition of 800 housing units – in a broad range of market rate and affordable options – within a five-minute walk of the business district created a sense of vibrancy throughout the neighborhood. Housing choices, for long-time and new residents alike, have been greatly improved in terms of quality, variety, affordability and tenure options…East Liberty is lauded as the city’s most diverse neighborhood, with nationally recognized supportive housing on the same blocks as $400,000 homes.

ELDI and our many partners worked to bring this vision to life by gaining control of the neighborhood’s housing stock. In the early 2000s, East Liberty’s residential community was fighting a losing battle with abandoned properties and the absentee landlords who kept buying foreclosed properties. In response, the stakeholder-driven Real Estate Committee of ELDI designed a comprehensive development strategy to address the scale of blight in the neighborhood. ELDI gained control of all of the abandoned properties in the community and also intervened to acquire foreclosed properties that would have sold quickly to absentee landlords.

With around 200 properties now under control, the community plan’s goals of mixed-income housing could be implemented. City, state and private partners supported the community vision. Newly constructed and renovated homes brought homeowners to stabilize some of East Liberty’s most blighted blocks. Affordable and market-rate rental housing replaced slumlord apartments, and middle-income families began buying homes in the community. These higher-priced sales stabilized home values, protecting the equity of existing homeowners and encouraging newcomers to buy and renovate homes with their own sweat equity.

The stable, mixed income neighborhood that the community plan envisioned became a reality.

The results of our neighborhood stabilization efforts can also be seen in East Liberty’s demographic transformation.

In 1950, the booming business district and residential enclaves of East Liberty boasted a population of 14,954, of whom 12.6% identified as minority. Over the next generation, as the impact of urban renewal, white flight, and the collapse of Pittsburgh’s steel industry were realized, East Liberty’s population plummeted to 7,973 in 1990, of whom 60.8% identified as minority residents. This diminished population struggled with vacancy, blight, crime, and poverty. However, these same residents spent three years involved in community planning efforts that led to the creation of the 1999 East Liberty Community Plan.

In the mid-90s, any planning or growth seemed impossible. However, East Liberty residents created a vision that “A new mixed-income population will create a market for housing,
services, and shopping. Economically secure households, along with the changing neighborhood image, will attract larger markets for retail development and business expansion.”

Today East Liberty is that community, boasting a growing and diverse population in 2020 of 6,187 residents, of whom 42.2% are Black, 40.8% are white and 16.9% identified as “other”. This diverse population is now enjoying the vision of those bold thinkers of the 90s through renewed retail shopping, jobs in the neighborhood, new parks and housing, and a dramatic drop in crime.

➡  Read East Liberty’s Community Plans