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Soon Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund Will Have To Be More Choosy

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The advisory board of Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund, or HOF, will soon have to be more selective about what projects they support, and when they do, they want to be sure those investments do the most good.Pittsburgh City Council approved the Housing Opportunity Fund in 2017, but it took a while to fund it, so the HOF has operated in an environment of relative abundance: in each calendar year it’s had roughly two years of funding to get out the door.

While the Urban Redevelopment Authority had created a scoring sheet to evaluate proposals, advisory board member Mark Masterson said that got put aside.

“It didn’t really matter, in one sense, as to what the scoring sheet said because we had enough funds to kind of fund everybody that came forward,” he said.

By May or June, the HOF will run through its 2020 allocation and will just have the 2021 money to spend. Advisory board members say they are eager to evaluate how they choose to support projects moving forward.

For example, Dr. Jamil Bey said relying on median income as a metric may exclude a lot of Black Pittsburghers, because median income can be much lower for Black families.

“We need to really dig in and say, ‘What are we really trying to do?’” he said. “And for me, I’m trying to make sure that it’s OK for Black people to live in Pittsburgh.”

Advisory board member Adrienne Walnoha said the URA has provided great data about who applies for and uses HOF programs, but they don’t know why that is.

“Who are we actually hitting and why?” she asked. “Are there barriers specifically for different programs for specific groups?”

Under the Biden administration, municipalities are once again charged with affirmatively furthering fair housing, which means actively undoing economic and racial segregation.

There’s plenty of appetite for such work among HOF board members: when they first discussed creating subcommittees, nearly everyone wanted to be a part of the fair housing committee.

“Fair housing should be the corn syrup of [our work] — where it’s in everything, where you least expect it, where you do expect it,” said board chair Kellie Ware-Seabron.

During their March meeting, board members voted to hold a special session to discuss their fair housing objectives and how that will inform their work moving forward.