Dear educator,

I write to let you know about an upcoming initiative that may be relevant to your educational work. On November 10-12, we will be organizing a “University-Community Housing Summit” at the University of Pittsburgh and in the larger community. The initiative is sponsored by the Global Studies Center at Pitt, and it will consist of public lectures and panels, skills-building workshops, community-university dialogues, and one or more cultural events held over a number of days. It is being planned by a steering committee of community activists and faculty from the University of Pittsburgh.

The project’s key goals are to: 1) raise the profile of the affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh; 2) Shift debates to go beyond the supply of affordable housing to address forces driving the growing demand for it; 3) Bring together diverse constituencies to learn from one another and advance understandings of the causes, impacts, and solutions related to affordable housing; 4) Enhance local knowledge about the global factors shaping housing policies and the right to housing in Pittsburgh; 5) Strengthen residents’ skills and capacities for addressing the housing crisis and its impacts; and 6) Improve cooperation between area universities and residents.

We are hoping that teachers working with youth in our community will use this opportunity to help introduce their students to some of the background to the affordable housing crisis that is happening in Pittsburgh and other cities around the world. We would like young people to be involved in the Summit and to engage in the training workshops and discussions about how our community can better address the needs of residents to decent and affordable housing. Such engagement is critical to cultivating the leadership and creative thinking needed to solve this persistent and growing problem. To support this, we are encouraging and supporting synergistic activities such as films and book discussions and building a resource website with content that is appropriate to learners at all levels. We will also work to bring one or more of our guest speakers to local schools. We invite input from educators in our community on this endeavor.

Below this message you’ll find a more detailed description of the project and its rationale. I hope you will consider incorporating the theme of urban development and housing rights into your curriculum planning and student activities for the coming fall. We will be bringing in speakers from national housing justice movements as well as leading scholars in this area, and we anticipate some opportunities to arrange for them to meet with students at area schools. We look forward to welcoming you and your students to the Housing Summit events, and I invite your input and questions at this point as we begin to shape the form and content of this project.

Please let us know about your interest in this initiative and indicate if there are ways the Summit might complement the work you’re doing with your students.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Jackie Smith,
Professor of Sociology and Faculty Fellow, Global Studies Center



Developing Neighborhood Scholars: A University-Community Housing Summit
Project Coordinator, Jackie Smith, Department of Sociology & Global Studies Center Faculty Fellow
Sponsored by the Global Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh


The University-Community Housing Summit will provide a space for policy analysts, community leaders, scholars, and public officials to engage in collaborative work to identify feasible solutions to Pittsburgh’s housing crisis and the underlying forces that contribute to it, such as an under-representation of affected communities in decision making. Local, national, and international participants will be invited to contribute to discussions about the relationships between affordable housing, urban social movements, and globalization.

Participants will learn skills to help them contribute to improving affordable housing in our region. The Summit will also build upon the lessons from two other University of Pittsburgh conferences led by the Global Studies Center– the “Human Rights Cities: Making the Global Local” workshop in June of 2015 and “Moving: Gendered Experiences of Migration, Gentrification, and Displacement” held in April. The Summit will consist of public lectures and panels, skills-building workshops, community-university dialogues, and one or more cultural events.

Pittsburgh’s economic re-development has earned it the reputation as a “most livable city.” But growing numbers of residents ask, “livable for whom?” It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the reality of a growing divide between two Pittsburghs—one affluent, professional, and largely white, and the other low-income people with long-term roots in the region, largely people of color.[i]

Despite the links between economic growth and urban diversity, Pittsburgh continues to have the whitest metro area among large U.S. cities, and this is worrying to local officials.[ii] It also has higher than national average rates of racial disparities in poverty, unemployment, and educational outcomes. African Americans in Pittsburgh fare far worse than those elsewhere in the country. Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems reported that “Blacks often reside in areas where there are fewer resources for a good quality of life compared to more advantaged residential areas where Whites live.”[iii]

What is happening in Pittsburgh, however, is not unique to this city. Nor are the responses that are emerging. Patterns of growth, rising inequality, increased economic and racial segregation, and displacement of poor African American residents is, according to many analysts, the direct result of global processes that have turned cities into “growth machines.” The growing commodification of urban spaces privileges external investors and markets over the needs of residents for whom the city is primarily a place to live and work, exacerbating inequalities and conflict in cities around the world.[iv]

There is a notable gap in awareness among local organizers about global-local impacts, and dialogue with community leaders has revealed a reluctance to embrace human rights and other frameworks deemed to be ‘international,’ which are seen as removed from local experiences. Our aim for the Housing Summit is to help strengthen connections between local, national and international advocates for more just social policies in our cities and contribute to a growing body of scholarship on the complex relationships between the global and local as they affect human rights. The Housing Summit will provide space for participants to learn more about the solutions that have emerged, not just in Pittsburgh but also around the world, to address the loss/lack of affordable housing. In addition, the Summit will provide spaces for community leaders to meet with university faculty and administrators to explore how we can make better use of data and research to support community needs, and how we can improve our education and training to better support practitioners and to cultivate the kind of leadership today’s urban challenges demand.

We expect the summit to help us identify and begin training a team of “neighborhood scholars” who understand the national and global dimensions of housing policy and who can help document local needs and otherwise support advocacy for residents. The Summit will provide a space for leaders from universities and community groups to identify priorities and to explore ways to advance this agenda, building upon networks that are already emerging among community organizations, national and international human rights cities organizers, the University Human Rights Network, and other allies connected to the Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance. The Housing Summit will be an opportunity for more extensive cross-campus and community collaboration on an issue the affects all of our campuses and our neighborhoods.
Anticipated Outcomes. The key aims are to: 1) raise the profile of the affordable housing crisis on public and research agendas; 2) enhance local knowledge about the global factors shaping housing policies in Pittsburgh; 3) strengthen residents’ skills and capacities for addressing the housing crisis and its impacts; and 4) improve practices that enable residents and policymakers to both utilize and shape the data and research being produced at area universities; and 5) strengthen working relationships among members of Pittsburgh area universities and activist communities. Since these objectives have both scholarly and policy relevance, we are building an advisory committee made up of leaders from both of those areas to help structure the Summit agenda. Dr. Smith will work with the advisory committee to develop appropriate assessment/evaluation tools as well as a synthesis report that can be a basis for further action and dialogue on campus and in the community. Thus far, we have engaged with an emerging alliance of housing advocates in Pittsburgh as well as with faculty in the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, and School of Social Work and from faculty at other area Universities. The final report will be accessible to a general audience and will be circulated via websites, news media, and a variety of online and social media outlets used by community organizers who participate in the project. We will make results available in accessible formats via the Human Rights City Alliance and other relevant websites.


[i] See, e.g., a recently produced pamphlet from a coalition of housing advocates, “Black Homes Matter” http://prrac.org/pdf/Black_Homes_Matter-Pittsburgh.pdf.
[ii] See, e.g., this essay by professional consultant, “Lack of Diversity is Hurting the Region’s Economy” http://pittsburghfuture.blogspot.com/2013/06/lack-of-diversity-is-hurting-regions.html.
[iii]Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities
[iv]See, e.g., Harvey, David. 2012. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso; Cities for People Not for Profit: Critical Urban Theory and the Right to the City, edited by N. Brenner, P. Marcuse and M. Mayer. New York: Routledge; Appadurai, A. 2001. "Deep Democracy: Urban Governmentality and the Horizon of Politics." Environment and Urbanization 13(2):23-43.