May 23, 2016
Ash Marwah*, Franklin Park
Recently, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article, Tackling inequality close to home. Reader Ash Marwah thinks that we can be doing more, in the North Hills, for our seniors!
Urban inequality is more significant than it seems on the surface. Here in North Hills, we are seeing the vestiges of inequality more in the form of the Seniors on fixed income being the poor and the working families being the better off ones. Undoing inequality by providing more for the Seniors in North Hills will pay off multifold rewards. There are a number of issues that affect the Seniors (the poor) that are unique to our area. The primary issues relate to public transportation, increasing housing for Seniors, whether by building more on available ground or changing zoning policies to increase affordable housing for the poor.
First and foremost, we have no public transportation here. Access can provide help but have you experienced the service. If someone has to go to a doctor’s office, he has to arrange for Access to pick him up, probably one hour before the scheduled appointment. Invariably, the person reaches the doctor’s office quite early. Since he does not know how long will the appointment last, specially if there are multiple ailments or one major ailment that needs taken care of, no arrangements for Access can be made ahead of time. When he schedules for Access after the doctor’s visit, it will mean further waiting till the Van arrives. In summary, a doctor’s office visit can amount to a whole day affair.
So what is the solution. A simple approach would be to run a 14 passenger bus service, with a ramp for the handicapped, on some standard schedule with standard stops. This is similar to the North Hills Community Outreach’s bus service in Millville and Etna. We can hire Volunteer drivers, have NHCO run this service also, in addition to their existing service in the City. The charge for using the service is $1 each way. Running this bus service has already been proven to be successful in our area, it is just a matter of extending the service in North Hills.
Second and equally important issue is housing. We need more affordable housing for the Seniors in North Hills. Whether it is single family houses, apartments or condominiums, we need more of it. Currently, Seniors who have been living for a long time in North Hills are finding out that housing costs are getting beyond reach of their fixed incomes. A slow exodus of Seniors has already begun because the Seniors are balancing their medicines and medical care costs with their living costs. As School and Local Property taxes keep rising in North Hills, it will increasingly speed up the exodus of Seniors from this area.
Other issues concern taxes, where it is not just local and school taxes but also county taxes come into play. A simple solution to reducing the tax burden would be to give incentives for greater housing density. That can be in the form of apartment building in lieu of single family housing, which means changing our zoning policies. Increasing density means a greater number of people would make the Tax Base, thus resulting in greater tax collection and a reduction in individual taxes. A good example of a commendable effort on these lines is the recent commercial and residential mixed development at McCandless Crossing.
Another example is The Villages in Florida, a Seniors only city. There are 110,000 people living there in a relatively dense area and the cost of services is minimal compared to here in North Hills. A variety of factors play into the successful experiment in The Villages, but some of those, specially of increasing density, can be easily applied in North Hills. One simple example from The Villages will bring home this point. There are 36 – 9-hole golf courses in The Villages which are free for the residents. The end result is that a whole host of people spend their day playing golf.
It is in our best interest to serve the needs of people who have contributed so much to building what we have. It is not only a debt of gratitude, it is excellent government policy. As we take better care of the poor amongst us, we all benefit. This is not just a charitable giving but a policy that has been found to enrich the whole community. As we increase density in our neighborhoods, we reduce the cost of services and in turn make it economical for everyone in the community. It is a proven fact and any and all action to this end will be to the benefit of all in North Hills, specially in the larger towns like McCandless, Franklin Park, Ohio Twp., Pine Twp., Marshall etc. just to name a few.
*Mr. Marwah is a former member of Franklin Park Town Council and has run for the North Allegheny School Board. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he is a 30-year resident of Franklin Park and is well-known in the community.