Pitt Hosts Housing Summit

Issue Date: 
December 1, 2016

When a city’s public affordable housing is demolished to make room for other development, the people who live in those homes are affected physically, socially, culturally, and economically. And there’s a name for that phenomenon. Urban renewal expert Mindy Fullilove calls it “root shock.”

Fullilove, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, was a keynote speaker at the recent Housing Summit held Nov. 10–12 on the Pitt campus. Community organizers and scholars gathered for film screenings, lectures, and discussion groups on issues surrounding housing insecurity.

“We shape the nature of people by how we shape communities,” said Fullilove, who was a fellow at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health in 1997.

One major theme of the summit was exploring ways to maintain community control. “We have to build a movement for human rights and housing justice from the grass roots,” said Pitt sociology professor and summit organizer Jackie Smith during the event.

As part of the summit, interested attendees boarded a bus for a tour of Beechview, East Liberty, the Hill, and the North Side, for a glimpse of current housing and how it is being affected by development. Participants also heard from residents about their experiences and about the community organizing underway in those neighborhoods.

Smith says her goals for the summit were accomplished. One of them was to build stronger communication and cooperation among Pitt departments and programs that do work related to community needs.

“We developed new models for community engagement and generated new connections among different organizations and activists,” she said. “Our workshops deepened our discussions about how to better unify our work for social justice and human rights in Pittsburgh,” Smith said.

The summit had a host of sponsors, including the Global Studies Center, Pitt’s School of Social Work, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and the Office of the Provost’s Year of Diversity, as well as the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing and the Hill District Consensus Group.