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Podcast: Equity and Neighborhoods with Majestic Lane, Pittsburgh, PA

Posted on August 7, 2020


Majestic Lane GovLove

Majestic Lane

Majestic Lane
Chief Equity Officer & Deputy Chief of Staff
City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter


Focusing on people, not just place. Majestic Lane, Chief Equity Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff for the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, joined the podcast to talk about the creation and work of the City’s Office of Equity. He discussed gentrification and how cities need to focus on people and impacts of who is served by new investments. Majestic also talked about workforce development efforts and the work Pittsburgh is doing to improve the diversity of businesses it works with.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Learn More

City of Pittsburgh Office of Equity

Majestic Lane to lead city’s new Office of Equity

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto creates new Office of Equity

Majestic Lane on gentrification. What it is. What it isn’t. And how to avoid it.

Emerald Evening 2017 Luminary Award Winner Majestic Lane


Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson

Hey ya’ll. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at the Novak Consulting Group and GovLove co-host. We’ve got a great episode for you today. We’re going to talk equity in local government and take a trip to the Steel City. Before we get into today’s episode, just a reminder about the ELGL annual conference. We’re bringing the conference fully digital. It’s going to take place the whole month of October and we are calling it ELGL Oktoberfest. Details are going to be announced soon. But the goal is to kind of spread that conference out over a whole month to avoid some of the Zoom burnout. And the best way to support GovLove is by becoming an ELGL member and attending ELGL events. ELGL is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in local government. Now let me introduce today’s guest. Majestic Lane is the Chief Equity Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff in the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania under Mayor William Peduto, a position he’s been in since May of 2019. He leads the city’s efforts to create opportunity for all residents concerning education, workforce development, safe and healthy communities and digital inclusion. Prior to serving as Deputy Chief of Staff, Majestic was the Deputy Chief of Neighborhood Empowerment, where he coordinated neighborhood equity efforts through community driven development and affordable housing. He also, our listeners, if you need another podcast to follow, he’s part of the Good Brothers podcast, which you can check out. With that, welcome to GovLove Majestic. Thanks so much for joining us.

Majestic Lane

Thank you. I really appreciate this.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome, awesome. So one tradition we have on GovLove is that we do a lightning round to get to know our guest a little better. So we got some fun questions for you. My first one, what was the first concert that you went to?

Majestic Lane

I’m sure it was to some sort of festival I went to first. But the first, the first concert I remember actually was the Jackson’s Victory tour at RFK Stadium in Philadelphia. So I can remember it very vividly. And, you know, as you can imagine it was packed and then it started raining. [Laughter] So there was that.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. Outdoor concerts in the rain, they can go one of two ways. It could be terrible or it could be kind of, I don’t know, kind of fun. It depends on the….

Majestic Lane

Not this one. I’ve had ones that they were interesting, but not the Jackson’s in the, in the nosebleed sections. [Laughter] It felt like it rained on you before it got to everybody else. So yeah, wasn’t good.

Ben Kittelson

That’s good. Next question for you. What book are you reading?

Majestic Lane

Ah, actually reading a couple right now. Um, so I’m a political animal of sorts and a student of history. So what I’m reading right now is Pelosi by Molly Ball, and it’s just a good story about the life of, of Leader Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi rather and just everything from her start and her family’s beginning in Baltimore all the way to the pinnacle of power. So really, really interesting. The Man of Tomorrow is a book about Governor Jerry Brown of California that chronicles his life. And just to break it up, so I’m not just reading books about California elected officials. It’s a book called Black Votes Matter. And it’s a book by Reverend Wilson Good, who was the first black mayor of Philadelphia and it goes through the history of black political, the development of black political power in Philadelphia.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, I’m the same way. I always have like a few books going. I try to mix in nonfiction with my with fiction mode to kind of…….

Majestic Lane

I’m trying yeah, it’s been tough. You know, and sometimes my fiction, my non my fiction ends up being like, non fictionesque. [Laughter] It kind of ends up being books that like are not about someone in particular, but kind of could but uh, yeah, I kind of stick to the script. I like other creative stuff, but on, books I kind of like to read about history.

Ben Kittelson

That’s fair. And then with kind of this time of, you know, the pandemic are you watching or bingeing any TV right now?

Majestic Lane

Yeah. So I’ve been watching That’s Delicious, the cooking and travel show for Action Bronson on vice. And that’s been kind of like the, the major show that I’ve been watching and also, interestingly enough old episodes of things like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, as well as Good Times and Sanford and Son trying to expose my 10 year old to these kind of shows and it’s just interesting to watch how he has no interest in them. He just doesn’t find them funny at all, where I was like at 10 I thought that Good Times and Sanford and Son was absolutely hilarious. But he does not think anything that is not a cartoon or not a show for him is funny. So that’s how it goes.

Ben Kittelson

Maybe he’ll come around like as he gets a little older.

Majestic Lane

Hey I’ll keep going. Don’t worry about it, but I’ll just keep trying. [Laughter] That way we’ll just see, we’ll see what happens.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. All right. My last lightning round question for you. Where do you go for inspiration?

Majestic Lane

I go to cities for inspiration. I go to other cities. I like to travel to other places, other forms of built environment. And last year did you know, a couple cities in Europe, so that was really actually inspirational to kind of see that the way that we function in America is a way but not the way. And although maybe some of the government structures and some of the government activities aren’t immediately applicable on a one to one basis, that there’s a lot that we can learn from from other countries and other continents and other folks.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, no, I totally agree. It’s like even just traveling around, like, within, within the country, like you can kind of see how different cities are doing things and how different neighborhoods feel. And yeah, I totally agree with that.

Majestic Lane

Yeah, the feel of places and kind of acknowledging how they got there and those kind of things, it gives you a sense of possibility.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, totally. Awesome. Well, our listeners will know that this is one of my favorite questions to ask cuz I’m always interested in how folks end up in local government and you know, working for cities and end up in their career roles, and I find that there is no one path into this field. And so for you, what was kind of your path to the position you’re in today? What was kind of, how’d you end up in local government?

Majestic Lane

So trying to make a long story less painful. In some ways, I grew up around folks who were interested in community activism and community involvement and then also in electoral politics. So one of my earliest memories is actually Wilson Good who I spoke with, the book I’m reading now, him winning to be the Mayor of Philadelphia. And so just around that kind of space and community engagement and housing development and social service work, and came to school, even though I kind of really wanted to go into urban studies. At that time, if you said Urban Studies, to my family, they would have said, what and how are you going to, how are you going to be able to take care of yourself? Right? And so it was like, no, you should go into engineering. So I dutifully went into engineering only to be at college, a summer program literally for three weeks, and recognize that, that wasn’t my thing. So I kind of followed and got into kind of community work as a young person, actually led some protests around some police, examples of police brutality here in Pittsburgh in the 90’s, and transition from there actually, into doing teaching entrepreneurship. Because I just felt it was important for young people to, you know, to build businesses and think about building wealth. So I did that for some time with a statewide organization and stayed in the nonprofit space. And I think the biggest thing about this is this, I got to a place where I recognized that I was doing a lot for community and doing a lot for families, but it just wasn’t enough. And I recognized that government just had such a impactful, such an impact on these families. And that it was this thing that wasn’t talked about and so, I said to myself of a want to have a bigger structure when pack I need to kind of go into government. So I actually applied to work for a state senator in this area who also had a background in community organizing and community activism and worked with him for four years, and just got a real education in how, you know, the the aspiration, but also the art of the possible, as I, as I say, people and him teaching me State Senator Jim Furlough and teaching me that, you know, politics is really the art of the possible and government is the means by which to achieve that possibility. And was there with him, he got gerrymandered, went to the social service world for a second and then in 2016, Mayor Peduto reached out and, you know, asked, would I be interested in coming on as he was making a pivot and the thrust of what the administration was doing and how to be impactful in the community broadly and I jumped at the opportunity.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. What about like, how has like your kind of background in community organizing and activism, how has that kind of informed the work you do for Pittsburgh now? Like? Yeah, does ……

Majestic Lane

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it helped me be thoughtful around who we’re trying to help. That the idea of the role of government is to actually make people’s lives better, so I’m much more conscious of whose life are we improving by our actions. And I think that’s a part of the community organizing community activist, kind of context, you know, and thinking about, you know, when we think about whose life is improved, do we also think about whose life is not helped? And what are the relationships of systems to either be a vicious cycle or virtuous cycle and hopefully, in our highest aspirations and dreams to make that vicious, I mean, that virtuous cycle something for everyone and try to minimize the vicious cycles that we see far too often.

Ben Kittelson

MmHmm. I really like that, that it’s shifting the focus on not just on who you’re serving, but maybe who’s being left out. And, and rather than just focusing maybe on the programs and kind of the machinery of government for lack of a better phrase. Yeah. And okay, so you started, and I think I mentioned this in in the, your bio, but you started as kind of in the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment and kind of leaving that word. Can you can you what, what did the work of that group kind of focus on? That’s not a group that I think a lot of cities have. So like, what was maybe let’s start with that. Well, what was kind of the focus of that group?

Majestic Lane

Yeah, sure. So the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment was a bureau that the mayor started in 2013 when he came into office. And the idea was that, you know, developers would get into red carpet rolled out to them, but CDCs CBOs and community members didn’t have anyone that they could talk to other than just kind of a outreach person in government. And to really have a space where community, broadly speaking, broadly defined, would have people inside government to engage with. I think when you look at around that time in 2013, you see a lot of mayors that came in and kind of had that at least vision on how they were going to they were going to manage and how they were going to lead cities. And our model was actually really based off of Philadelphia’s Bureau of Neighborhoods that ……during that time. So that’s how I came in. So I came in as a person that would lead a lot of our national work, that would partner with the national organization to we’re engaging the city again for the first time in a long time, on possibilities of how to make the city better, how to give us more TA, technical assistance, and then also how to possibly get more resources into the city. And so that was my that was my work and engaging with philanthropy and things on kind of bigger big projects that the city was doing. And what we found is we were we were in that space and a lot of things in Pittsburgh are based upon place. Neighborhoods and everything are a really big part of the city, is a city of neighborhoods like a lot of names, a lot of cities I’m sure, folks that you interview are from it. But what we acknowledged during my time there was that we didn’t just have a place problem. We had a people problem. We didn’t just have a place problem. We had a race problem. We just didn’t have a place problem. We had a gender problem, right. And we were trying to answer it all through place. We were trying to answer it all through neighborhoods. We’re trying to answer it all through community when there was some other fundamental things that were a challenge. And so we made, we eventually made a shift out of the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment, and to the Office of Equity last year, kind of just acknowledging that you needed a slightly higher level vision of the some of the structural challenges, as well as how you position the, the issues and opportunities of the next you know 10 to 20 years.

Ben Kittelson

Is there an example from that time where you’re kind of realizing that it wasn’t just a place problem, it was a, you know, like a people like issue or something?

Majestic Lane

I just realized, I think one thing you started to realize is that again, in Pittsburgh, the history of Pittsburgh has really, really strong and really, really high performing Community Development corporations, community based organizations that when government was almost non existent, really, really did its best to keep the social fabric as well as the built environment up in our neighborhoods, which is one of the reasons for, you know, the stories you hear about the rebirth of the city. A lot of that had to do with those organizations. But when you had done a lot of those things, but the built environment, and the relationship to people’s opportunities of prosperity was often different. So we just started to realize that there were new houses and that there was equity being developed in there and the median home prices were going up, but violence wasn’t subsiding. Or we saw a forced flight to the suburbs because of the cost of living in the city. Which means that the people who lived there during the tough times weren’t able to really benefit when things became easier, or when things became different. So we just really started to see it, okay. We just don’t have like a neighborhood problem. We have a there was a set of people who don’t make enough to live in the city, who used to live in the city. There is a set of people who are not receiving the services they need to flourish, who used to. That there are groups of people who cannot afford childcare, right? And so that’s where you start to realize it’s not about the neighborhoods per se. The neighborhoods are really stand ins for the quality of life of what people are experiencing. And that’s why we acknowledge that we had to make a shift.

Ben Kittelson

What did that what did that shift look like? I guess how does that change kind of the work of your office to shift from neighborhoods to equity?

Majestic Lane

It comes to me I mean, one to me, spelling it out a bit differently. And I think we weren’t to say that here we have a, you know, gender equity challenge, right? Or, hey, you know, welcoming Pittsburghers into our newcomer community and not just saying, oh, we’re going to deal with this particular neighborhood that our newcomer community finds themselves in, but no, we actually care about the entire quality of life of the person, not just the neighborhood they live in. So it was really just like a shift in view, right? A shifting view of what’s important, and the idea that you have to do people and place, but you can’t erase people out of the equation, because what happens is you have places that are nice and then people who are still lagging behind in any kind of indicator. It also meant to that point that we had to be much more thoughtful around data and much more thoughtful around what how could we measure where we are as a baseline and then where we need to go.

Ben Kittelson

Alright, I want to get to that that data, that data piece, but like this, this ties really nicely into, I was reading an article that you were interviewed for about gentrification and you talked about kind of this place versus people and so I guess, can you can you maybe share with our listeners what you the definition that you have for gentrification and kind of what, what this like investment in people versus place kind of what that maybe means or looks like?

Majestic Lane

Yeah, I mean, I look at gentrification, as you know, forced, forced removal. And what I assert is that there are a couple different kinds of gentrification. And I think it’s important to kind of spell that out. Because if you don’t spell it out, then it’ll seem like there’s only one kind of this is not happening, that either the community’s not being harmed, which is sometimes not the case, or that we don’t know kind of what to call it, right. So obviously, there is the actual gentrification where the costs have gone up so high, that it is not connected to the ability for people to stay in that neighborhood and be able to, to function. Then there is sometimes you may have a neighborhood where the people can stay because you may have rent control. But the businesses have shifted. Right? So all the businesses that were once there are no longer there. And often I call that psychic gentrification. And what I mean by that is when you’ve lost the businesses, when you’ve lost the cultural markers, then you psychically are not present even though you’re physically there.

Ben Kittelson

It doesn’t feel like your neighborhood.

Majestic Lane

It doesn’t feel like a neighborhood. And I think sometimes we’ve been so focused on the brick and mortar, the sticks and stones of a conversation that we forget that a neighborhood is not just about where you live, it’s about how you feel, right? It’s what takes it from a house to a community. And often the markets have done that kind of shift and so when people aren’t invested in thinking about the third spaces and places they find important and the market is allowed to kind of just do whatever wants to, if you will, usually backed and supported by capital from the city, right, in some form or fashion or tax abatement or something right. Um, then people don’t feel they don’t feel like they’re there. But I also make the distinction between that and neighborhood change.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, yeah. I really like that.

Majestic Lane

Because I think there’s a I think there’s an important difference between neighborhood change where a neighborhood is shifting for a variety of reasons, where new people are moving there who often can make the neighborhood better. And what I mean by better is not … better because they’re there. But they can bring unique things to the neighborhood. They bring food, they bring their customs, they bring their culture, right. They often bring numbers of people that would strengthen the ability for folks to vote and have a voice. And I separate that from literally when the market is making a decision that it’s better to  knock down a building and to give you money to leave, and it is to allow you to live there because I can make more money off of it. Right. And so for me, that’s always been a distinction that I’ve made. And so for a long time in parts of Pittsburgh, I argued that what we saw was neighborhood change versus gentrification. But it was psychic gentrification. Because people didn’t have a place. They still live there. But their level of agency in the community wasn’t as such. So when we’re looking at, you know, neighborhoods, it’s about changing the physical and the built environment, but it’s also about maintaining a sense of self. Why if you look in cities all across the country, we still call places little this or little blank, right? But the mass of the people who live in that neighborhood aren’t of that background anymore. But all the watering holes and the restaurants and those things are still there. To the point that we’ll still say that that’s their place and that reinforces the importance of the psychic sense of self in a neighborhood.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, I really like this distinction between like change and then like the types of gentrification because like, I would argue like change it’s always a part of the city like you’re always gonna have people moving in and out and like businesses moving in and out. That’s that’s like, what the hallmark of the city and so like, any sort of change cannot be gentrification. Like that’s just part of being a city.

Majestic Lane

Yeah, they are organisms, I mean, cities to me, cities are organisms, right. They’re constantly growing and evolving. And we have to determine, with different actors, how we like them to grow and evolve. They don’t grow and evolve by themselves, for the most part right there are factored. And so that also means institutions have to take the responsibility to acknowledge that change may be inevitable, but displacement isn’t. Right. Change is inevitable, but people being shut, shuffled and shuttled to different neighborhoods where they’re disconnected from the resources that allow them to have a high quality of life, that isn’t necessarily normal.

Ben Kittelson

Mm hmm. Well, and you mentioned like, like, in order to kind of address that displacement and talk about, you know, the people side of this, like, we have to invest in people as much as you are like the neighborhood like infrastructure, or buildings or whatever that is. So have you guys had and tried out any strategies around that front and kind of work on this displacement piece?

Majestic Lane

I will say we are still being, to be very frank we’re still working on it because it is so, it is so normal and natural for government to say, we control the land. We control the brick and mortar right. That we’re not as involved. However, the workforce we’ve been trying to connect with organizations that do work for us and I represent Mayor Peduto on the board of our Workforce Investment Board. And so we’ve been trying to say, in neighborhoods we see change coming, how can we create opportunities for people to be able to buy their homes, for example, or when we’re investing, our Urban Redevelopment Authority now is looking at, okay, how can we create pathways to homeownership for folks who may be paying more to rent than they could to buy certain homes, especially if we’re involved in the redevelopment of them, because they’re not being done on the private market for the cost that it would take to do it. Right. So this is us acknowledging that the human capital development in this in this and the human sense of place, is as important as the as the brick and mortar even when we’re involving brick and mortar. Right. So, you know, also acknowledging and one of one of our big investments is in digital equity, and really starting at a young age for young people, because we have a city that tech has become huge. If you would ask someone 25 years ago, when I came to Pittsburgh 25 years ago, what was Carnegie Mellon University famous for, you would have said, the guy who plays Sam Malone on chairs right? Now it’s infamous for tech and cars that drive themselves, right. So that means that the city is undergoing a huge shift and changed in the last 25 years. And if that is the case, and you shift the city in that kind of way, all the residents caught up, are we being thoughtful around what this means to all the residents. And for a long time, the shift and the change was so isolated to particular neighborhoods, that neighborhoods that were always nice, that’s where everyone stayed. Right. So you always had these invisible borders of where black people and white people would live in a city is very segregated in that way. And so it was it was not noticeable for a long time. And as over years and decades it becomes more noticeable that uh, you can’t keep everybody in three or four neighborhoods like folks are going to expand out and as you’re bringing amenities to the city and you’re investing in arts and you’re investing in culture, people are going to want to take a chance. And as they take this chance, it can have a huge impact on neighborhoods. And, you know, by the time that we really understood the depth of the kind of models of investing that is undergirded cities, I would say for the last 30 years, like in most cities, by the time you recognize it, it’s becoming a bit too late. But so, so I, like I said, I lay cards on the table and say, we’re still working on what that means. But we acknowledge how we have to put people first and we have to put the intent and the goals and the interests of what people want to achieve first.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. Well, and even like bring it to the forefront and as part of that conversation, I would think it starts to impact even the like, maybe place investments that they end up, you know, investing in. You are thinking about those impacts, and maybe ways that you wouldn’t otherwise because I know places I’ve worked and cities I worked for, you know, they’re so excited about the new tech hub or the new the new startup scene, that they’re not thinking about, like, well, who’s not being served by that currently? And is there a way to connect them into that? And kind of thinking about the next, I don’t know, orders of operation or next level of facts.

Majestic Lane

Absolutely, we had to worry about what impact so at some point we had to start having a conversation is what’s going to be the impact on our market? Um, when we were having the, you know, Amazon conversation, one of the things we saw was that, you know, folks, folks who are going to come from Seattle, weren’t going to come from a place that the median home cost is $330,000 and move to a place where the median owner income is 13, or four or 430. Right? What they would want to do was actually find themselves living in the middle neighborhoods of our city, the places that still had the infrastructure, right, that was the they were kind of the middle neighborhoods. They weren’t the traditionally expensive neighborhoods, but they were places that people for what they were used to in in the West Coast or somewhere in Texas, they could get three times the home for one third of the cost.  And those were the neighbors that we acknowledge we’re going to be negatively impacted. So again, we’ve had to start thinking about who wins and who loses, which I think, again, the undergirding of many of our systems thus far, were, if it’s good for the city, it’s good for everybody. And I think now we acknowledge that something that’s good for the city is not good for everybody. And what does that look like? What does that mean?

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, it also empowers, I would think decision makers to go yeah, this this this, like this will have a negative impact. What can we do to alleviate that?

Majestic Lane

To mitigate yeah. Well we have to mitigate the impact. So and then it starts to have you ask the question, well, if the tech hub comes in, where, you know, do they start at $15 an hour? Right? Do they start prevailing wage and, you know, what are their pathways?

Ben Kittelson

Where are the folks gonna stay?

Majestic Lane

Or where are the folks gonna stay? Are there pathways for work or a pathway for apprenticeship programs? Right. And so it also allows you to have a different conversation with your corporate, folks. Right? Because now we are supposed to say, yes, we will we love your jobs but we also want to think about your deeper investment into the city. And what does it mean to have a deeper relationship to the place that you’re calling home and that your that your employees are calling home?

Ben Kittelson

So is that is that fair to say that that’s kind of like how you’re thinking about in approaching sort of the workforce development aspects of or efforts in your office? Is that is that like, how did how do you connect into this bigger you know, City of Pittsburgh, like industries and stuff and finding ways to have these companies invest in people that ……

Majestic Lane

In people right. I think it’s we have to just say from there that they want to invest in people. What you see, and in many cities, Pittsburgh absolutely is a dislocation of sorts between the jobs and the people who are not currently working. So you see these kind of jobs that pay 50 – $55,000 a year for 18 months of training or 12 months of training, but it almost implies that you had 12 months of training based on getting maybe a college degree, I mean, a high school diploma or two years of college, right. But if you have an education system and a broader structural system that has left thousands of people, not even getting to the point of graduating high school or graduating high school, but not graduating with the basic skills to be able to engage anything beyond the service sector, then you know, what you will hear from companies is we have all these jobs, but no one to do them. There’s … was a sprawl conversation around this where, you know, a lot of the employers are in the county and not just in Allegheny County, which is the county that we’re in, but also like in the five to ten county area. And our transportation system was never structured to engage in that manner. So our transportation system was never meant to get you from the city to two counties away.

Ben Kittelson

It was supposed to get you into the city.

Majestic Lane

Yeah, it was meant to get you into the city or be around the city right. And you know, and as we’re racing and racism becomes a thing like we weren’t trying to get you to the suburbs, because most of the suburbs at that time were mostly white right and the people were protecting their investment. So we’re not really building the trolley to the you know, eventually the trolley lines went away. Right the trolley lines, it did a lot to get people into cities or they’ve built a lot of these suburbs and built the wealth. You know, by the time the lights go out at the, at the mills, and everything, these are now buses, these aren’t trolleys, right, you’re not you’re not you don’t have a transportation system that is designed to get people move people around the entire city. There’s been a lot of investment to try to be thoughtful around that now. But it’s still a dislocation. So from a workforce perspective, for me, I would say there’s a couple things. One is the stabilization and some of the most basic elements of it. If somebody is working, where can they work for, where it allows them to take care of themselves? Where can they work for ways to take care of their families, and looking at even from the relationship of workforce and development and public safety? Where can someone work where they can make the decision that it makes more sense to do that than to do something else? Yeah, and so for so many places in America and in the world, but people say 725, 725 versus taking the chance, I’ll just take the chance, right? Yeah. And so when you get to wages that allow people the dignity to say, I will work hard, I will come to work, I will do what I need to do. And this will allow me to truly feel like I’m a member of society. That’s, that’s one component of it. Two, is a component of really looking at access to opportunity. So a big thing for Earl Buford, who is the head of the our workforce investment board, is apprenticeship models, acknowledging that traditionally, a lot of folks in communities black and brown folks, and, you know, even up until recently, some poor white folks who weren’t connected to labor unions didn’t really have access to apprenticeship models. And so really thinking from a public sector model, from a construction sector model, how can we create opportunities for folks who get into jobs that traditionally they haven’t, that then can find themselves really being family sustaining your self sustaining jobs that add to the quilt, if you will, or the makeup of our city. So that’s been a really important thing for us to do that. And then finally, kind of on another level, there’s an organization, Vibrant Pittsburgh who really thinks about how are you connecting diverse candidates to high performing jobs in our region, and attracting and retaining folks, right? So we’re really trying to think about on all these different levels, what does the thing look like to have a pathway, just some elements of stabilization that you have to do. There’s some access, what I call access to opportunity, and then there’s some, you know, pathways to prosperity.

Ben Kittelson

And it’s the role of the city in these kind of conversations, just maybe being the convener and bringing folks together to have this discussion, or is it like strategically investing to kind of get some momentum in in some of these areas or what does that kind of look like?

Majestic Lane

Yeah, I will say both. I would say that the you know, the mayor is really prides himself on the role of the city and convening and acknowledging that not one component of our system can do it alone, that we need each other to do it. So we definitely played a role of convener, but also with his resources, whether CDBG resources or some of our resources of our operating budget, every year, we take 10 million from our operating budget specifically and invest into what we call a Housing Opportunity Fund, to be able to keep people stabilized and in place and also provide opportunities for home ownership. So we do it through a variety of means. Actually, also, we’ve invested an extra $250,000 to work with our Workforce Investment Board to invest into a construction partnership, that the trades, the builders guild is actually promised that anyone that can complete, the pre apprentice program will have either an apprenticeship or be able to go to work immediately after completing it. And up until this point a 125 folks have gone through this program and everyone has either gotten a job. Anyone that graduated either got a job, or an apprenticeship program, which is I think is unheard of. But that’s also that was also part of because our area was undergoing such extension and such growth in construction, and building buildings that now the trades are like, listen, we need people on the bench, like we’re extending all the people who were ever on the bench. We need to get people working. So we were able to see that and the mayor convened a task force to have that conversation. That’s one of the good things that has come out of it.

Ben Kittelson

That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, and you mentioned this earlier, and so I want to make sure to follow up. One of the ways to talk about the disparities and show kind of needs, is data. And so what have been kind of your office’s efforts around either the collecting, setting up some performance measures and stuff? Like what are what are kind of the data, the data work you’re doing? Or what are you trying to tell, what kind of story you’re trying to tell with data to kind of help your office’s work?

Majestic Lane

Well, in the infamous words of Michael Bloomberg, that then was passed down to Mayor Peduto, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. And so we have really abided by that. And so as a part of our work with the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities, we had the opportunity to be part as a 100 resilient city but also be a part of an equity indicators project with for the cities sponsored by a City University of New York and Rand. And so what it did was it gave us the ability to look at all the different challenges going on in our city, and then look at what were the five with the highest disparity, and then how can we engage them. And so for us, what it did was allowed you to go beyond what you think is an anecdote of the biggest problem. And actually allow people to bring all the information together saying this is what people are suffering from. This is where the biggest disparity in your entire city is, which is important, because it takes it out of your, you eyeballing the problem into you measuring the problem, if you will. So we were given from that report two and a half years ago, we really were given five things that we saw, were the biggest issue. Some of them we were primary in, like, for example, police killings and homicide rates, and the disparity between the black and white homicide rates in the city. So we started to work with our group Violence Intervention project to be able to get more folks who are from communities and the street to just not do intervention, but prevention. And we were able to bring down the murder rate 20% actually in one year. And so but that was only because we knew, right we we thought it was a challenge, but then when you tell us that this is your challenge, then you’re able to redeploy resources in a way that makes sense. We also, what we didn’t know was that one of our biggest challenges was also the unbanked populations of Indian disparity between black and white. So as part of our work with Bloomberg and cities, CFE, we were able to, you know, begin a, what we call FEC’s and FOC’s, Financial Empowerment Centers and Financial Opportunity Centers, with support from a nonprofit organization here neighbored allies and as well as one of the local foundations and really partner to say we want to expand the ability for people to get financial information to saying things that so many communities take for granted. Right. When someone says, hey, invest in this or go to see this go to see this banker, they’ll take care of you or put your money here. We know that there’s so many people black, white, no matter orientation, but, you know, we do notice a little racial component to this that didn’t have access to go due to financial information. And so we’ve been doing that for about two years, one in some of our locations, but then also partnering in some of the workforce development locations. And we’ve seen millions of dollars of debt resolved, working over the last two years. And so that’s an example of things being really helpful that we knew we could have a direct impact on, and that we knew we would have to invest in differently around economic opportunity. So that’s the role that data has really played, as you can imagine, in a city with as many universities as Pittsburgh has, I think second only to Boston, you know, you get a lot of data. You get a lot of data coming out, and we’ve had some data that hasn’t been, it’s been sobering, but I think you have to face this, you have to face it before you can solve it. And that’s, that is really been the benefit of data. And I think we’re looking forward, looking at some new data that’s come out. Our policy thinkers put some data out regarding an Equity Atlas, and we’re going to be looking at where they acknowledge some of our challenges around poverty. That I think we’re interested in engaging.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. Well, I totally want to underline what you said that like it gets your decision makers out of the realm of like, making policy on anecdote, maybe their experience and their neighborhoods like, and getting it to like, what’s it what’s actually the problem or what’s actually going on? And it makes, yeah, I agree it makes for way better policy outcomes and policy in general.

Majestic Lane

Yeah, I think it really, it really helps. It really helps us not just not just like I said, eyeball it. But really, it worked with our partners to say, once you acknowledge this as a shared issue, how can we work together?

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, totally, totally. Um, and so I think you touched on this a little bit But like going through your website, looks like one of kind of your efforts was around business diversity and improving the kind of mix of businesses and diversifying who is working with the city and through government contracts. And I think I saw that you guys had a grant to kind of take a look at this issue, or improve this. So what does that kind of look like? I want to be sure to ask because I know it’s something that a lot of cities like, want to do better at and enjoy, have tried in some ways, but are with mixed success. So what’s kind of been your experience?

Majestic Lane

One thing I want to say about this, this is a really, this is a conversation I think has not had enough in enough cities, because essentially, in this way, cities are creating wealth for populations. And by access to, you know, city contracts, so city contracts are seen as gold by banks, they’re seen as gold by investors, they are seen as gold by other people which truly allow folks to build their businesses and then hire people. So the idea of the contracts and not hitting the numbers people want to hit, sometimes people just say, okay, well, maybe the business weren’t ready. But the challenge is, if you don’t change that model, you’re just going to be perpetually creating worlds for a population of people and not and not allowing the entire city get access. So we have, we got a grant from Living Cities, who has been a great partner, a great national partner, on really helping us say, how can we do better with procurement? And how can we be more thoughtful around the expanse of our business diversity work? Now, first thing I’ll say is that we acknowledged internally, we just were not doing nearly well enough. So we made a decision to shift. We have an Equal Opportunity Review Commission that looks at all the contracts and evaluates them all but we actually created a kind of sub office within the Office of Equity called the Office of Business Diversity and we led with that to really say, okay, you know what, we are going to be much more purposeful. We hire two more people to really say we’re going to take this seriously. And we’re not just going to take the outreach side seriously. We’re also going to take the back end side seriously. We’re also going to take the did you actually work with this organization you said you did? We found situations where before we came into office and then resulting after that, there were folks who said they used subcontractors who never used them. Like so how it’s structured is you come and you say, hey, I’m going to use Evans Trucking, right. And Evans Trucking is going to get 15% of this contract, and he’s a MW, he’s a MBE and I’m also going to use Delgado Labor, Delgado, you know, tires, and they are WBE and you put those two together, you get 25%, you get women, you get all this stuff. So everyone says, oh, that is excellent. But for a long time, we had no one to measure if they actually ever got a contract, that they ever were called back actually, after that happened. And so you have people whose names are being put on contracts who never receive a dime. And then people are angry and you don’t know why they’re angry. And so that was the humility to really listen to say, okay, what is the biggest problem? Like what what are what are we not doing that you’re so angry about when we think we’re engaging you in a contract? And people are saying, well, no, you actually didn’t engage us in a contract. You actually, people used our name and never gave us a contract and never reached out to us after the day they came to you. So that’s why it was important for us on the back end, you know what I mean, to, to really to do that and say we have to make this shift. What Living Cities did for us is recognized okay, here are the best practices of places all across the country. And here’s what you can start to do to make progress. So one of the things that we did with them that we’re really proud of is a buying plan. Something that I didn’t realize, and many of your listeners may not realize is that transparency, or the lack of transparency is a subsidy. Meaning, when folks can’t see what’s coming out, if the only people that know what’s coming out, are the people who’ve already been in business, you are actually subsidizing those who have relationships, right?

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. You are just reaching out to your list.

Majestic Lane

You are just reaching out to your list and you’re harming those who don’t know. Right. And so what we started to say is this, like lack of transparency was actually a subsidy for certain businesses. And so the bind plan for us, allowed us to say here’s what we’re going to do this year and you can know before the year starts all the work we’re doing this year for all the city and all of our authorities. Now what does that allow you to do? That allows you to create partnerships, that allows you to know when you need a loan, that allows you to know when you need to staff up, right. And so that’s really what was important for us. And that and again, people may not think of it, but that’s an example of equity. Because you don’t think about that the model that we have of, you know, not being able to see what’s going on is actually a benefit to those who have been in the system, you know, and you know, that, that, that, that level of being opaque being an ex, being a subsidy, so.

Ben Kittelson

Well, that’s, yeah, that’s, that’s a really great point. And well, we’ll have to stay tuned and see kind of what else you guys are doing and, and we’ll have our, our listeners will have to follow along and try to implement some of that. So I have one more hard hitting question for you.

Majestic Lane

Yeah. Let’s do it.

Ben Kittelson

It’s the hardest one.

Majestic Lane

Okay.

Ben Kittelson

So we have a tradition on GovLove that our guest gets to pick our exit music. So if you got to be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?

Majestic Lane

Oh, man. Oh man. Ah, okay. I thought about this because I have a it’s interesting. There are certain artists who do these albums who instrumental music normally did. They’re dedicated to a city that just got into this acknowledging that like, London has a cup London has many Stockholm. But what I’m going to do is to say I think one that kind of defines where we are now. And there’s a classic is a, Summer In A City by Quincy Jones…..

Ben Kittelson

Awesome, awesome. We’ll get that queued up. With that, that ends our episode for today. Majestic, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me. I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your expertise.

Majestic Lane

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Ben Kittelson

GovLove is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. You can reach us online at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter at the handle @govlovepodcast. And you can, the best way to support GovLove is by joining ELGL. Membership is just $40 for an individual or 20 bucks for students. You can also sign up your whole organization if you really want to win us over, and subscribe to GovLove on your favorite podcast app. If you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. Help us spread the word that GovLove is the go to place for local government stories. GovLove is looking for your feedback. Please visit govlovesurvey.com and help us make GovLove even better. With that, thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.


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