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Councilor Ricky Burgess Proposes New Funding Stream For Affordable Housing

Heather McClain
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh has an affordable housing shortage of approximately 20,000 units. Councilor Ricky Burgess proposed a way to fast-track their creation.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Ricky Burgess says the city must take bold action to solve its affordable housing crisis. In 2016, a task force estimated a need for 20,000 units, which led to the creation of the Housing Opportunity Fund. 

Despite the effectiveness that fund, Burgess said it could take decades to address the housing shortage. Instead of chipping away at the problem, Burgess wants to make a big investment, and soon.

On Wednesday, Burgess proposed taking out a bond for $60 million to create a revolving loan fund to provide more resources to the Housing Opportunity Fund. There’s precedent for his idea, he said.

In the 1990s, the city of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority floated a $60 million bond to create the Pittsburgh Development Fund. The money established a revolving loan fund to support large commercial, industrial, and residential developments.

Burgess said those loans have created investment in and benefitted middle-class and white neighborhoods; today, the minimum loan amount for the fund is $450,000. He stressed that he thought those developments were good, and that the city should use the model to tackle affordable housing.

“We now face this crisis that disproportionately affects black and brown people,” he said. “I’m going to argue, it is time to do the same thing we did for the wealthiest people in Pittsburgh.”

Burgess proposed his plan during a council discussion of the Housing Opportunity Fund’s $10 million allocation for this year. URA officials said demand for their programs far outstrips their resources.

Mayor Bill Peduto said he could support the idea of a bond, but he’s not sure the Housing Opportunity Fund needs that much more money.

“What I think the people would want to see … is where [the money] would go to before the bond would be issued.”

Burgess and Peduto both say they look forward to more conversations about the idea.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.
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