In the late 1970s and early 1980s, U.S. Steel, Westinghouse Electric, WABCO, Union Switch and Signal and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel all closed major manufacturing plants in the Monongahela Valley. Some sources indicate that as many as 175,000 jobs were lost in the region when these plants closed.
Major industrial sites occupied hundreds of acres of land, and as landowners, the corporations were major taxpayers. Without this business tax, communities in the Mon Valley were hard-pressed to provide basic services to their residents. People moved out, and the Valley’s role as the engine of the regional economy was lost.
As the steel industry was crumbling, a number of the major local business and industry leaders representing Pittsburgh’s largest corporations began an aggressive plan to address the problems that arose from the fall of the steel industry. This group of business leaders made up the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
The group focused their work on setting strategic investment strategies for the region to address the devastating economic decline. They developed a strategy that included hiring a community organizer, Mike Eichler, to find a way to create reinvestment in the Mon Valley.
Eichler and key leaders and funders of the Allegheny Conference valued seeking solutions directly from those who lived and worked in the Valley. They recommended strategies that offered a means to broadly engage local people in implementing economic and community development projects.
In addition to helping to form new grassroots organizations, Eichler also provided support to the CDCs that were already in existence. Through the Allegheny Conference the “Mon Valley Development Team” was formed in January of 1987.
In April 1988, the representatives of these grassroots CDCs began to discuss the possibility of forming some type of regional coalition. These discussions led to the incorporation of the “Mon Valley Initiative” in December 1988.
As conditions in the Mon Valley have changed and evolved, MVI has shifted its strategic goals.
Today, MVI serves both as a support network both for independent community development corporations as well as a community development corporation and service provider of its own.
Although parts of the Pittsburgh area have recovered, many others have not, and 30 years later, the effects of that rapid, unprecedented decline are still felt in many Mon Valley communities in the form of higher-than-average unemployment and poverty rates.
While the closed factories have been demolished, people living in the Mon Valley still need better-quality housing, financial and life coaching, job skills development and community planning and organizing.
From its offices in Homestead, the heart of America’s historic Steel Valley, MVI continues its mission of “working together to unite the communities and restore the economic vitality of the Mon Valley.”
MVI strives to fill that mission by:
— renovating and constructing high-quality, affordable housing;
— assisting communities to develop and maintain their main street districts;
— providing individuals with the tools they need to enter into the workforce;
— offering in-depth, one-on-one housing counseling services; and
— helping its partner CDCs become more efficient and effective.
Since its 2004 merger with Housing Opportunities Inc., MVI also serves as a national intermediary for other housing counseling agencies that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.