Sale of large number of affordable apartments worries Pittsburgh housing advocates
The recent sale of a large block of the region’s affordable housing stock — more than 1,300 affordable apartments in and around Pittsburgh — to a new owner has some local housing advocates apprehensive.
Last week, Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation, known as AHRCO, announced the sale of its portfolio to a New Jersey-based company. AHRCO had apartment properties in the Hill District, Homewood, the North Side, West Mifflin, Rankin and elsewhere. The sale price was not disclosed.
Since the sale, a number of local affordable housing advocates have expressed concern over new owner NB Affordable’s recent beginnings (it started in 2020); rapid acquisitions and growth (its website says it aims to own 25,000 units by 2025); and its apparent close ties to an investment firm. NB Affordable shares an address with Levine Capital, which describes itself as “a private equity firm founded in 2012 to protect and build our family wealth through real estate.”
NB Affordable pledged a $10 million dollar investment in the properties in an initial statement announcing the sale. It has not responded to multiple messages from WESA since.
“This is a huge acquisition by a buyer that there’s not a lot of details on,” said Kate Walz, associate director of litigation at National Housing Law Project, echoing a concern shared by many local advocates.
The properties are privately owned but receive federal subsidies to house low-income residents. The sale was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The sale involves more than 1,300 apartments spread across multiple properties. Local housing advocates say they’re worried that properties in hotter real estate markets could be converted to market-rate apartments once HUD contracts guaranteeing affordability expire. There’s also concern that buildings in other locations, like the Mon Valley, could be left to languish with a minimum of needed repairs.
Many of the properties need investment, and $10 million dollars won’t amount to much spread across more than 1,300 units, said Carol Hardeman, executive director of the Hill District Consensus Group.
“That’s what worries me,” said Hardeman, who formerly lived in an AHRCO property, and who has worked with AHRCO tenants trying to improve housing conditions. “We have those concerns, and we have concerns about the future affordability,” she said. Tenants were taken by surprise when they learned of the sale, Hardeman said.
“I’m not really sure why an outside investment company would be allowed to buy that much property. Are they going to be dedicated to the city of Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley?”
Walz said sometimes community efforts can be successful in bringing about repairs or requiring long-term affordability for properties.
“If local officials care about and are supportive of affordable housing, and the preservation of it, they could facilitate [with the tenant leaders] asking NB Affordable for additional terms so that affordability is maintained, tenants aren’t displaced, and the housing is returned to good conditions,” she said.