The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11 by President Joe Biden, is a significant commitment to rebuilding communities affected by the covid-19 outbreak and is an extraordinary investment in our economy. The $1.9 trillion in government funds can be used for a variety of reasons, including housing, workforce development, and small company growth. Furthermore, Biden and legislative leaders made the critical decision to prioritise equity in the policymaking process.
Neighborhood Allies is introducing the Equitable Recovery Playbook to help regional decision-makers activate American Rescue Plan monies and target resources to areas that need them the most.
The following principles guide the playbook:
• Communities hardest touched by the pandemic – Black and brown neighbourhoods and low-income areas — require the most attention, imaginative solutions, and investment.
• When policymakers are presented with feasible and clear options, they will be best positioned to invest in those communities; and
• Because of the breadth and scope of the fiscal stimulus, we can undertake strategic and catalytic investments in addition to tactical ones.
The playbook’s growing list of fundable projects and programmes offers prospects for more than $32 million in real estate investment and blight remediation, small company growth, credit building, home ownership, and housing affordability.
Neighborhood Allies collaborates with partner organisations throughout the region, including 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 Homewood home repairs. Importantly, these projects are already underway and will swiftly inject American Rescue Plan funds into the economy.
The Equitable Recovery Playbook expands on the work of Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab. The lab spearheaded an effort to create a federal investment guide for both the American Rescue Plan and the recently passed infrastructure bill, which clearly demonstrates how state and local governments may fully capitalise on new federal funding streams and boosts to current programmes.
However, nearly a year after the American Rescue Plan was enacted, the majority of the funds remain unutilized. Furthermore, legislators, civic leaders, and business organisations have failed to create strategies for leveraging public dollars and scaling impact, thereby failing to capitalise on the opportunity. This is an opportunity for cross-sector collaboration that should not be passed up.
Just over $1 billion of the $7.3 billion in state budget assistance has been appropriated in Pennsylvania. Allegheny County allocated $100 million of its $380 million allocation for September 2021, but no information on the remaining amount’s uses or estimated timeline has been disclosed. Former Mayor Bill Peduto and the City Council of Pittsburgh successfully authorised all $335 million in fiscal stimulus monies allotted to the city. However, much of that money has been squandered: $5 million for affordable housing preservation, $10 million for house repairs, and $21 million for new homeownership have all been stymied by red tape, with none of it accomplishing its intended goal as of yet.
Meanwhile, towns and families are still struggling. According to a 2016 housing needs assessment, almost one-third of Pittsburgh households are cost-burdened (spending more than 30 percent of income on housing). The situation has undoubtedly deteriorated, as the region’s employment level has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels and remains 1.5 percent higher than the national average.
The pandemic has worsened long-standing disparities in wealth between white and black Pittsburghers. According to Brookings, the age-adjusted death rate of covid-19 for Blacks is approximately four times that of whites. Pittsburgh was named the worst city in America for Black women in 2019 based on four categories analysed by University of Pittsburgh researchers: health, income, job, and education.
Underlying Pittsburgh’s legacy of racial and gender inequality are barriers to individual wealth building that women, people of colour, and low-income people face 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.
We need our leaders to take action in order to allocate resources into these areas and improve the quality of life for all people. Community-based groups and enterprises, as detailed in the Equitable Recovery Playbook, have no shortage of brilliant ideas or important needs. We cannot afford to squander this once-in-a-lifetime chance to rebalance our economy and make equitable decisions about how we invest in Pittsburgh neighbourhoods.
Neighborhood Allies’ president and CEO is Presley Gillespie. Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab was founded by Bruce Katz.