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URA Board Approves Work On Slate Of Housing, Community Efforts

Keith Srakocic

Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority continues to build out the programs enabled by the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund.

On Thursday, the URA board greenlighted creation of the Small Landlord Fund to help more residents use the federal subsidy called a Housing Choice Voucher, or Section 8.

Nearly 70 percent of the vouchers return to the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh unused because holders can’t find landlords on the private market to take them, said Jessica Smith Perry, director of the URA’s Housing Opportunity Fund department.

“The issue is either the landlord knows they’re not going to pass a Section 8 inspection so they don’t even try, or they try to pass a Section 8 inspection and they fail,” she said.

The fund will loan the money for renovation work to landlords with one to five units. The URA must first secure funding for the program; Smith Perry said they have applied to the PNC Foundation for $250,000 and Pennsylvania’s Keystone Communities program for $250,000.

In Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, the URA approved financing for a long-vacant senior home that will be developed into senior housing, with community health services on the ground floor. All of the building’s 54 units will be affordable to people with incomes below 50 percent of area median income for 35 years.

An effort to expand who has access to URA money was also approved. The Neighborhood Initiatives Fund will be paid for by the city and help nonprofits and community groups tackle community-scale projects.

It’s important that the city support the URA, said board member and city councilor Daniel Lavelle.

“Often during budget season they fight about what is the URA doing, how is the URA helping my district,” he said. “Well this is a prime example of how we’re able to better everyone’s district throughout the entire city.”

During the budget process for 2020, council cut funding for the URA, something Lavelle said he’d like to avoid in the future. Applications for the program’s pilot will be due Oct. 1.

Exclusive negotiations for a major project in Uptown were awarded to Fifth and Dinwiddie Development, LLC, a new entity made up of Bridging the Gap Development and HB Development. The roughly 2-acre site comprises 34 parcels that fall in the city’s Uptown Eco-Innovation District. The developers’ plan includes commercial and flexible space, a new public plaza and 167 units of housing.

One-fifth of those units will be available to people making less than 60 percent of the area median income, which would be $47,940 for a family of four and $31,950 for an individual. Four units will be set aside for people making less than 20 percent of the area median income, which is $33,600 for a family of four or $11,200 for an individual.

A project to reconnect the Lower Hill District to downtown Pittsburgh will begin next week. The “cap” project will build a 3-acre park over Interstate 579 to create a route to and from downtown. Board chair Sam Williamson said the URA of another era played a role in isolating the neighborhood. In the 1950s, the construction of the highway and Civic Arena displaced thousands of African-American families. 

Williamson said it was a racist and classist decision that will not be repeated.

“I think this board is committed to … opening a process over time of actually addressing the harm that was done to communities."