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Funding For URA Partially Restored After Housing Activists Cry Foul

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Affordable housing activists appealed to Pittsburgh City Council on December 12, 2018 to fully restore funding to the URA.

An amendment passed Wednesday by Pittsburgh City Council would partially restore some of the proposed budget for the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Affordable housing activists cried foul when the original draft of the 2019 city budget slashed the URA’s funding by more than $5 million.

The URA is a major driver of affordable housing initiatives in the city. But in a statement this week, Mayor Bill Peduto said the proposed cut wouldn’t impact affordable housing efforts.

Now, $2.5 million is on track to be returned to the URA budget, taken mostly from street paving.

Activist Mel Packer of Point Breeze said he isn’t satisfied. “We shouldn’t be restoring some of the cuts," he said. “We should be restoring all of the cuts, or it will be seen as a betrayal by the low income people of the city.”

Longtime housing activist Ronnel Guy said she’s glad that council agreed to partially restore the URA budget, but that the remaining cut feels like a slap in the face to activists who worked for years to create the Housing Opportunity Fund, which was passed last year. She said decreasing URA funds feels like a backdoor way of undermining affordable housing efforts.

Guy said the Housing Opportunity Fund, which provides $10 million a year for affordable housing programs “is a drop in the bucket as to what we need. So you know I’m just tired of having us coming down here arguing and fighting for pennies.”

Peter Kaplan of the Housing Alliance echoed the idea that the URA cut amounts to a cannibalization of the Housing Opportunity Fund. He said the fund was “intended to supplement and expand existing resources for housing programs, not to replace them.”

“The reality is it’s about increasing the whole pie,” said Guy.

But Councilor Deb Gross said understanding the net resources going towards affordable housing in Pittsburgh isn’t that straightforward.

“How much are we doing and how much is the Housing Opportunity Fund augmenting what we’re doing? That’s really hard for us to see as we sit here in this room today,” said Gross.

Gross said going forward they must keep a closer eye on how much affordable housing funding is coming from various sources.

The amendment to partially restore URA funding was introduced by Councilor Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle. Lavelle said $2.5 million was “as much as we could figure out how to move back over into the URA to support the affordable housing work.”

“The commitment doesn’t end with just the Housing Opportunity Fund,” said Lavelle. “It doesn’t end with just trying to restore these dollars, but it is looking at a much longer play to address this concern.” He said he’s been having conversations for more than a year about utilizing a bond to increase the impact of affordable housing initiatives.

Council’s final vote on the budget is scheduled for next week.