State of the Land Report: April 2023

State of the Land Report

The State of the Land Report is our monthly update where we will be educating and sharing out about everything you need to know about vacant land policy in the City of Pittsburgh!

State of the Land Updates

Bethel AME Church to be reunited with unjustly seized land in the Lower Hill

In the 1950s, the newly established Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) marked a large section of the Lower Hill District as “blighted*” despite the presence of a large and vibrant Black community, in order to claim the area via eminent domain and build the new Civic Arena. As part of the major urban renewal project, they tore down “about 1,300 buildings across 95 acres, displacing more than 8,000 people, more than 400 businesses and multiple houses of worship” (WESA, April 14, 2023). This area included the oldest Black church in Pittsburgh, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1808. Situated at the corner of Wylie Ave and Elm St, Bethel AME was a vital center of the Hill District community, providing education and championing social activism. Current church members cite racism and Bethel AME’s political power as a reason their building was demolished in 1957, while a nearby white church was left untouched. The congregation relocated to the corner of Webster Ave & Morgan St in the Middle Hill. At its height, Bethel AME included over 3,000 members.

On Friday, April 14th, at the Restorative Justice Rededication Ceremony, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who currently hold development rights to the land, promised to return 1.5 acres of the land to Bethel AME with the hopes of righting a past wrong. The ceremony was held on the land that Bethel AME will acquire, which is currently a parking lot along Crawford and Colwell Streets. Initially, the congregation was given $250,000 from the URA for their site and building that was valued at $750,000 (Pittsburgh Union Progress, April 15th, 2023). However, this victory for reparations comes after over two years of negotiations with the city, the Penguins, developers, and local white faith communities “to acknowledge how they have participated in or profited from racist systems and to compensate Bethel for its losses” (Public Source, April 14th, 2021). Bethel AME plans to develop the land into affordable housing and possibly some revenue-generating development to invest in the future of the congregation (AP News, April 14, 2023).

* Grounded Strategies does not support the utilization of the term “blight” or “blighted.” “Blight” has been the default word for describing disinvestment and distressed land but when talking about vacant land, the racist roots and history of the term must be reckoned with. At Grounded, we are encouraging a shift in language that recognizes the distinct place-based history and systems of oppression that cause vacancy.

Bethel AME’s current Pastor, Rev. Dr. Dale B. Snyder, Sr, at the ceremony on April 14th, 2023. (Photo credit to Stephanie Strasburg/Public Source)

Hopefully this major win for Bethel AME is only the first step in the City and the URA reconciling with the destruction of the Lower Hill and the harms they have caused, and continue to cause, to the residents. 

Read more here:

Read about a different Lower Hill Development Here!

We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts? How else can we find justice for those harmed by unjust land seizure? 

Community Advocacy Opportunity

The Hazelwood Initiative is fighting a new housing development by the URA called “ Woods Village.” This proposal would turn city-owned land adjacent to a Greenway into apartments, disrupting the biological corridor, connecting Schenley Park to the core Greenway Forests in Hazelwood. Hazelwood Initiative recently presented a petition to city council and URA, outlining their concerns about the project. The petition is still open for signatures if you would like to sign here, and you can read what the URA has to say here and contact them with any concerns.

If you have more questions or would like to further support this cause, reach out to Matt Peters at

Policy Updates 

Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Bank Updates

Legislation would smooth path for Pittsburgh Land Bank to acquire property

Market know for multi-ethnic food to buy Hill District site for nearly $2 million


City Council and City of Pittsburgh Updates and Meeting Highlights

New Legislation aims to help longtime Pittsburgh homeowners amid rising property taxes

Pittsburgh to challenge more than two dozen tax-exempt properties in opening salvo against major nonprofits

Section 8 sold short: Pittsburgh housing authority’s mishandling of vouchers repels landlords, imperils tenants

Understaffed department faces Pittsburgh’s daunting infrastructure needs


Community Updates

New fund aims to preserve affordable housing in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County

Urban Academy leaders hope a new community center could bring more investment to Larimer 


Allegheny County Updates

Developer withdraws rezoning request for development in South Park Township

Home loan activity in Allegheny County spiked in 2021, but not enough to close racial gaps 

How the Tri-COG Land Bank is Transforming Vacant Properties in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

Penn Hills council continues to fight blight, pursue funding for VOPP trail 

Yassir Yousif: Land bank helps turn a house into a home


Pennsylvania Updates

Leechburg Area School Board approves joining land bank in fight against blight



The Problem with Calling Neighborhoods with Vacant Properties “Blighted”

Advocacy Network

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Grounded is working to improve the condition of vacant lots by developing sustainable solutions that can address the environmental and racial injustices currently entrenched in our property management system. The lack of a comprehensive and unified strategy to care for vacant lots disproportionately affects low-income communities of color.

We must ensure that the process of land recycling and maintenance is conducted equitably, transparently, and through an anti-racist framework. Help make change happen in local, state, and federal land-use policies, voice your concerns about vacant land in your community, share how you want to see vacant land transformed, and support your neighbors in obtaining land access and ownership.

Join Our Advocacy Network!

Additional Resources 



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