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Hazelwood Development Doesn't Have To Come At Expense Of Affordable Housing, O'Connor Says

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh City Councilor (left at table) has proposed a pilot program that would restrict 15 to 20 city-owned properties in Hazelwood to use as affordable housing.

The specter of rising housing costs in the neighborhood of Hazelwood is prompting Pittsburgh City Council to consider reserving some publicly owned property for use as affordable housing.


City Councilman Corey O'Connor is proposing to add deed restrictions to selected properties. The restrictions would require future buyers to rent units at affordable rates for households earning 80 percent of the median income in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, as calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


O'Connor wants to test the measure as part of a pilot program involving 15 to 20 publicly-owned properties in Hazelwood, where new development is expected at the former Almono site – the last large riverfront property in Pittsburgh.


Noting that the city owns a significant amount land in Hazelwood, O’Connor said his proposal could have long-term impact.


“We can help to control speculation, as well as ensure that Hazelwood’s affordable not just now, but 15, 20 years from now,” he said.


Other council members welcomed the idea at a committee meeting Wednesday, with councilwoman Deb Gross thanking O’Connor for “learning the lessons from other neighborhoods.”


Rapid development in Gross’ district has sent housing prices soaring, most notably in Lawrenceville.


Gross pointed out that the Lawrenceville Community Land Trust, established in 2015, uses an approach similar to the one O’Connor hopes to pursue. She added, however, that the land trust probably formed too late, after property values had already taken off in Lawrenceville.


“If only they had acquired the properties 10 years earlier,” Gross said. “Really, 10 years ago would have been the moment when it was still $10,000 to be able to get some of these [properties] under control because now they’re gone.”


O’Connor acknowledged that he hopes to prevent a similar fate in his district, which includes Hazelwood and other southeast Pittsburgh neighborhoods.


At Wednesday’s committee meeting, council members unanimously gave the pilot program proposed by O'Connor a positive recommendation, with a vote to come at a later date. If council approves the pilot program, the city's finance department would choose the properties based on a review of all eligible properties by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.