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Program converting downtown office space into affordable apartments launches Tuesday

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The program utilizes $6 million in funding allocated to the state, the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Applications for Pittsburgh’s downtown conversion program open Tuesday. The pilot initiative aims to create more affordable housing in the Golden Triangle by transforming underutilized and vacant office space into apartments.

The program will prioritize projects that create new affordable housing for residents earning 80% of the area median income or less. For a two-person household, that is up to $60,700 annually.

Guidelines released last year state units that receive funding should also accept housing choice vouchers for the city’s Housing Authority. The program will prioritize projects that promise to meet affordability requirements for at least 40 years.

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Speaking to WESA’s The Confluence on Thursday, URA executive director Susheela Nemani-Stanger said, while downtown lacks affordable workforce housing, it has the potential to become a residential hub.

“If we can increase supply, I think that that demand could follow,” Nemani-Stanger said. “But it's about quality housing.”

The program utilizes $6 million in funding allocated to the state, the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Allegheny County will also use $3 million in ARPA money for downtown conversions, although those will be distributed separately from the URA-administered pool.

Just 48% of the 70,099 employees that visited the central business district on an average day in January 2020 had returned as of December 2022, according to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

That same month, employee office occupancy in the Golden Triangle reached just 20%, as many continue to work remotely. PDP President Jeremy Waldrup told WESA last year that, in light of this, some businesses have decided to reduce their office footprint upon renewal or give up their lease altogether.

Kyle Chintalapalli, the City of Pittsburgh’s chief economic development officer, said this combination of factors presents a good opportunity for the pilot program to step in.

According to the U.S. Treasury, all ARPA funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and expended by the end of 2026.

“We do believe that there's a tremendous opportunity and ability for this product, and expect these initial moneys for the pilot program to be deployed certainly by the timeframe, if not even quicker than that,” he said.

The city is also looking into other funding sources it can leverage to sustain the program once the initial funding runs dry, including from the state’s ARPA money reserves.

More information can be found on the URA’s website.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.