R. Daniel Lavelle still has work to do.
The Pittsburgh City Council member is up for reelection May 16, running unopposed to keep his District 6 seat, and he wants to serve for at least another four years.
“I look forward to serving another four years, so I can make progress on a lot of the issues that I’ve begun to fight for,” he told The Incline, before listing off a number of projects: affordable housing, redeveloping the Lower Hill “in an equitable way,” a comprehensive plan for Manchester and redeveloping the North Side public housing community Allegheny Dwellings “in a real way that incorporates it back into the neighborhood as opposed to just isolating poverty.”
It’s a long list for the member of council who’s also at the center of one of the most important — and controversial — legislative efforts: creating a fund to create and preserve affordable housing … and funding it.
Lavelle, with Councilman Ricky Burgess, recently introduced legislation that would provide around $10 million a year for the fund by raising the city’s realty transfer tax one percent, to five percent, to pay off a bond from the Urban Redevelopment Administration. It’s a plan that’s strongly opposed by the real estate community, as well as by City Controller Michael Lamb.
But as Lavelle told The Incline before introducing the legislation, he can’t back down from what he believes in.
“I’ve always told myself that I don’t look to be a career politician,” he said. “I want to be able to fight my fights, say what’s on my heart, believe in what I’m standing for and be willing to walk away,” he said.
The Incline sat down with Lavelle in March for our nine-part Meet City Council series. Below is that conversation, condensed and edited for clarity.
Daniel Lavelle: 101
First elected to council: 2009, beating incumbent Tonya Payne
Next city council election: This year. Lavelle is running unopposed in the May 16 primary, and there are no declared Republican or independent challengers for the general.
District 6 includes: Perry Hilltop, the Hill District, North Side, Uptown, Downtown, part of Oakland. See the map.
Contact: Call the District 6 office at (412) 255-2134 or email a member of the staff.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in your district right now?
A: Lavelle pointed to two things: affordable housing and economics.
Affordable housing is an issue “whether it be Manchester, central North Side, the Hill District, even Downtown for that matter,” he said. “Affordable housing is sort of a unified issue.”
Economics, he said, is also an issue that touches every part of the district, save for Downtown.
“Making sure that those areas share in the economic prosperity that we see happening within the community is a critical issue, as well as good, sustainable job opportunities, ensuring quality education for those residents,” he said.
Q: You’ve championed affordable housing and you’re a board member on the Urban Redevelopment Authority. What else can the city and the URA do to create and preserve affordable housing?
A: Lavelle stressed that preserving affordable housing is extremely important.
“Because the reality is, by and large, the majority of our city is affordable, but it also has lacked investment,” Lavelle said. There are neighborhoods in District 6 and around the city that, with the right resources, can be a part of this effort.
He pointed to a house rehabilitated by the Fineview Citizens Council that is now home to a woman who lived at Allegheny Dwellings and her two children.
“These are examples of how we can actually preserve affordable housing, give people decent living spaces, because you can’t build your way our of this issue,” he said. “That’s a key piece of this.”
Q: What has been your best and worst moments in office so far?
A: It’s the same answer for both: the opening of the Shop ‘n Save in the Hill District.
“It was the worst moment, because when I ran for office, that was the No. 1 issue, and it was the No. 1 issue that I promised to work on and deliver to the community,” he said. “Little did I know it would take over three years to satisfy that promise.”
Lavelle called it “a very frustrating time for me personally and for the community,” as the Hill District had been without a full-service grocery store for more than 20 years. But when it opened? One of Lavelle’s proudest moments.
“And not just for me,” he said, “but for the entire community,” which was willing to reject offers from other grocers to hold out for one that’s full-service.
“The community stood strong and said we’ve gone over 20 years, we’re willing to go a few more to get what we really need,” he said. “It was a community-led effort.”
Q: What is your favorite thing about living in your district?
A: Lavelle, who lives in the Hill District, had a one-word answer: “access.”
He can get from his home to his office in the City-County Building in eight minutes and anywhere in his district in around 15.
“I like to consider my district the heart of the city,” he said. “Take Downtown put a circle around it, that’s what I represent. And I think it’s only poised for growth, and being here while thousands of others will flock back in future years is an asset.”
Q: What is something that every Pittsburgher should do or see in your district?
A: Lavelle’s answer will satisfy both body and mind.
He recommended visiting the civil rights monument Freedom Corner in the Hill District “to understand what it stands for, what led to its creation,” and eating at Wilson’s Bar-B-Q on the North Side.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in the community?
A: Lavelle had a number of suggestions, from joining one of the many active community groups in District 6 to “getting involved with a mentoring program that’s going into some of our struggling schools and working with some of the youth.”
But he emphasized that people with an idea can always reach out to his office.
“I tell my staff, there’s our technical role of what we must do, between council meetings and legislation, but then there’s everything else that is a matter of what we care about and what issues we chose to become advocates for,” he said. “At the end of the day, we represent everyone else, so their issues are our issues. So if people have thoughts, ideas, concerns bring ’em forward, we’ll get engaged.”