According to recent Census data, 7,000 Black people have left the city in the past 4 years.By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There’s a new plan in the works to stop the exodus of African American residents from Pittsburgh neighborhoods. A plan before City Council involves a massive infusion of COVID relief funding to build affordable housing.

Amid East Liberty’s new luxury apartment buildings and tony national chain stores, Jamil’s is one of the few Black-owned businesses left. And owner Rafiq Brookins says many of his friends and former customers are no longer around.

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“If someone can only afford $500 a month in rent and the demographics has changed to the point where those coming into the city, those coming into this area are willing to pay $1,500 a month, what can you do? You’re forced out,” said Brookins.

With the demolition of public housing towers and the razing of low-cost housing like the Penn Plaza Apartments, the city has experienced an exodus of African Americans. According to recent Census data, that’s 7,000 in the past 4 years, or 9 percent of the city’s Black population.

“They didn’t leave for economic opportunity going to other cities. They left because they could no longer afford to live in the city of Pittsburgh,” said activist Randall Taylor.

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On Wednesday Taylor and other members of the Penn Plaza Coalition petitioned City Council to use $200 million of the $355 million dollars in COVID relief funding under the American Rescue plan to build affordable housing in East Liberty, Homewood and Lincoln-Larimer, bringing new residents and bringing back displaced ones.

“If you want to grow this city, why don’t you start with the people who wanted to live here?” he said.

In the hearing over Zoom, Council listened to more than two dozen activists, community leaders and displaced people who because of a computer glitch could not be seen. But Councilman Ricky Burgess said the plan needed to be more than affordable housing for poor people.

“You want to rebuild Homewood but not with all poor housing. You want mixed-income housing. You also want stores and restaurants. You also want dry cleaners and drug stores,” Burgess said.

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There is no formal legislation. No formal plan. But the issue of gentrification, Black displacement and affordable housing is front and center in the mayor’s race and issue whose time may have arrived.