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Housing Opportunity Fund Takes Step Forward

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA
Several recommendations to improve and expand affordable housing in Pittsburgh have been approved by the city's agency overseeing its development.

The City of Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund is one step closer to investing in affordable housing. A preliminary plan for 2018 spending was approved Thursday.

The fund’s advisory board recommends how to allot $10 million this year. While specific program details still need to be determined, five priorities are identified in the allocation plan. Each priority outlines the types of programs that would be eligible for funding, as well as the support services that could receive funding to help programs succeed.

The largest share of money, $4 million, is recommended to go towards a broad umbrella of programming called rental gap financing.

“Lots of flexibility in this category,” said Anne Boynton, consultant for HR&A Advisors. “This can be acquisition, it can be new construction, it can be renovation, it can be preservation, it can be homeless units.”

The advisory board also recommends that more than $2 million go toward owner-occupied rehabilitation.

“You have an aging housing stock owned by very low income people,” said Boynton. “They need help, many of them, with repairs, with renovation and with weatherization, accessibility, health and safety issues.”

The allocation plan proposes that more than $1 million be spent to buy, rehabilitate, and resell existing properties. It proposes nearly $1 million for down payment assistance for first time homeowners, and supportive services for them, and nearly $1 million for homeless rental assistance.

Homeless individuals and those at risk for homelessness could be eligible for support, although the types of programs that will be available are still unknown. Boynton said there could be programs that offer a small subsidy to a household each month over the course of a year, or a more rapid assistance program “where someone is coming in and getting a deep subsidy the beginning of the year, working with a service provider to stabilize their situation, increase their income, so that over the course of that year, the subsidy can gradually glide down to zero.”

Many outstanding questions remain, including what, if any, programs will be grants as opposed to loans.

The recommendations will soon go before the Urban Redevelopment Authority, then City Council for final approval as early as October. The intention is to have the money committed by the end of this year. The advisory board will soon begin to craft the 2019 allocation plan.

The $10 million annual fund was approved by city council, and is paid for by an increase to the city’s realty transfer tax.