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A Tale of Two Cities


((PKG)) A TALE OF TWO CITIES
((TRT: 16:45))
((Topic Banner:
A Tale of Two Cities))
((Reporter/Camera:
Deepak Dobhal))
((Map:
Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania))
((Main character: 1 male))
((Sub character: 1 male))

((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Wow. So many memories on this porch. Hanging out with my friends. Bunch of kids from the neighborhood. Kids in the house. Mom and Mary. I could, I mean, I can almost smell the fried chicken and greens. This is 1320 Hill Avenue, Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, the home I was reared in.
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
As the story was told to me, when I was born, there was a deal made between my maternal grandmother and a woman by the name of Elsie Boyd.
((Photo Courtesy: Andre Perry))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
I call her mom because when I was born, she exercised on the deal to take me home to this house. At the time, my biological mother was poor. She already had a child when she was 15, had me when she was 17. Not just my mother was poor but my father was a heroin addict and he was in and out of prison. Eventually, he was murdered inside a prison, a day before his 27th birthday.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Photo Courtesy: Andre Perry))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Now, in reflecting back, it was, you know, an informal way to take care of children. Wasn't a foster care. It was an informal mechanism that matriarchs did back in the day. I stayed here till I graduated from high school.
((MUSIC/NATS))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
There's still items in there, I believe. Yeah, I'm actually anxious to see what's still in there. When Mom passed and Mom's daughter became ill, they both moved away. And so, the home was abandoned and no one was paying taxes on it. And so, the county, the borough claimed it.
Wow. Oh, my goodness.
Yeah, it gets worse and worse every time. It gets worse. Like now, the roof is completely collapsed. That means, that part.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Wow. This one’s worse than the last. When you look around, there's a lot of homes that are looking just like mine. The street has been emptied out, so to speak.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
It was a fun place. It was community. I also remember vividly people coming to play cards on Saturdays, or Fridays and Saturdays. They would play Tonk and Biz Whiz, games that African Americans play.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
When you're growing up, you really don't know that you're poor in so many ways because our culture and our family was so rich. When I come back, it deflates you.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Wilkinsburg was a predominantly White area and a very wealthy, affluent area. When we started to approach the 70s, we started to see some of the economic shocks of what lead to U.S. Steel leaving the area. And, of course, that helped facilitate White flight because from the 70s on through now, you started to see a rapid decline of White population and Black people at the same time started to move into Wilkinsburg. And so, the demographic shifted pretty dramatically.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
As soon as it became darker, investment started drying up.
I mean, right down the street and we need to go to the main street, Penn Avenue. We need to go to see what was once a booming main street.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Wow. I mean, this is like one of my best, my favorite blocks because of Angelo's Pizza. It was everyone's favorite block. We all walked down after school or on the weekends, Friday nights. Angelo's Pizza. Yeah, man. This is it.
((NATS: Andre Perry and Shawn Collins))
((Shawn Collins
Friend of Andre Perry))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Oh! What's good?
I just happened to look and saw, oh, Wilkinsburg jacket.
It’s good, man.
What’s up, man?
You know, I’m trying to be me.
Oh yeah, of course. I saw the old jacket. I had to double check. I said, you know, hold on, wait a minute.
Shawn and I used to go to Wilkinsburg [High School] together.
Well, the bakery was...
The bakery was right...
…right there.
Yeah, Metro.
Yeah.
Metro was the bakery. The, what was, was it Saul’s, the magazine...
No, Saul’s was right here.
Oh yeah, Saul’s right there. Right, right, right.
What was the magazine shop?
Zern’s.
Zern’s. Damn.
Yeah, man.
Yeah, man.
I mean, like I said, this place had everything you needed. Everything.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Whenever you see depopulation, it's going to have economic impact because you're losing tax base. And that revenue leads to lack of finances for policing, loss of revenue for schools, loss of revenue for other municipal services. And so, depopulation certainly matters. However, I think when you lose White population and gain Black population or the Black population becomes the dominant focus, something else occurs that it becomes, it's branded differently. It's seen as a riskier place.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
When you go online, you go on one of the online real estate sites, you'll see that the home is valued at maybe $15-16,000 on any given year. But you go, even in its disrepair, how can that actually happen?
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
The land alone, the proximity to downtown. There's a highway up the street. University of Pittsburgh is not that far away. CMU, Carnegie Mellon [University], not that far away. There is a main street only, you know, less than a mile away. It has all the physical manifestations that would suggest that this home should be worth more.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
And so for me, that's where a lot of my work begins, to measure what's the penalty for being a Black community? My colleagues, Jonathan Rothwell and David Harshbarger and I, we did a study where we looked at home prices. And no surprise, we found that homes in Black neighborhoods in general have, are lower priced. But a lot of people will say that's because of education, that's because of crime. But those are things you can control for in a study and that's what we did. And what we found is, on average, homes in Black neighborhoods are underpriced by 23%, about $48,000 per home. Cumulatively, that's about $156 billion in lost equity. I mean, it's a big number and I mean, just to put that in perspective, a $156 billion would have financed more than four million Black-owned businesses, based upon the average amount that Black people use to fund, to start their businesses. It would have funded more than eight million four-year degrees, based upon the average amount of a four-year public education.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Those wealth extractive policies really throttled our ability to grow. During the 30s, the federally-backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drew red lines around areas that were deemed too hazardous. So, families who lived in those areas could not get refinancing opportunities as their greenlined areas, White areas, received. And so over time, Black people essentially could not develop wealth. Today, you see White family median wealth at $170,000 compared to about $17,000 for Black families. That's not by coincidence. That's not because of bootstrapping of White families and lethargy of Black families.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
Wilkinsburg has its challenges, you know. Certainly, there's crime, high taxes, a lot of other issues. All of those things have ties to policy choices. Just like people deemed Black neighborhoods in the 30s, when they redlined them saying they're too hazardous, unworthy of investment, you kind of still have that done, not with red lines but with perception. People see twice as much crime than there actually is in Black communities. They see worse education than there actually is in Black communities. And that dim view of Black America shows up in home prices. But it also shows up in other areas as well, development.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
This is the same Penn Avenue that is in Wilkinsburg, the same Penn Avenue, just two miles, a mile and a half [2.5 – 3 km] up the road. New development, revitalization, refurbishing of buildings, hundreds of millions of dollars into these few blocks. Now this was certainly a Black neighborhood but Pittsburgh's overwhelmingly White.
That used to be, where you see Google, that used to be Nabisco and you could smell the vanilla wafers as you approached it from Wilkinsburg.
When I was growing up, Wilkinsburg actually had a lot more going on than this area. A lot of people, when they said downtown, they actually were talking about Wilkinsburg, you know, because there were so many things going on there. So… Yeah, it's very different.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry
Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))

When you see development like this, it's not because of bootstrapping and ingenuity. It’s because someone took a risk to give money, capital, equity to people.
Wow. 250,000 [23,000 m2] square feet of office space in this area. So, I can't even imagine the cost per square foot on this. I mean, it’s a massive level of investment and development.
What you're also seeing is the investment extending towards Pittsburgh and not going towards Wilkinsburg. So certainly, you have the anchor of Google and you should see investment bleeding either, both ways but right now, it's going in one direction.
((NATS))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
You've got to wonder, you know, how race factors in, whether or not a place gets development.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
My father should be sitting here giving you the same talk. If he lived in areas where the home values were at market rate or the White rate, he would have had greater opportunity to go to college, greater opportunity to start a business. His drug use probably would not be criminalized. His life and my life would be different. Lots of people have been robbed of an opportunity to be successful. I'm no different than my father. I'm no different than the people who were snatched up by systems, and people who were not invested in.
Yeah, I made it but I'm no different.
((NATS/MUSIC))
((Andre Perry

Scholar/Author, The Brookings Institution))
I'm in the process of buying this house because it needs to be represented properly. I love this home. It made me who I am today. And when I hear people say, “Oh, Wilkinsburg is bad. Wilkinsburg has crime.”, I mean they're really talking about me. They're really talking about my potential. And so, I want to show that when you invest in a place, it can grow. But I want to have something to share to my family that still lives in Wilkinsburg, that still lives in Pittsburgh. They need to come back here. I need to come back here and not see this because it doesn't represent my family.
((NATS/MUSIC))

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