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Politics & Government

City to Convene Affordable Housing Task Force

City Councilman Daniel Lavelle has spearheaded efforts to include affordable housing in the redevelopment plan for the lower Hill District, and is now broadening his focus to the city as a whole.

Lavelle has introduced a bill that would create an affordable housing task force, responsible not only for finding ways to preserve and improve existing units, but also to create new ones.

After much discussion, the bill received preliminary approval in City Council on Wednesday.

One point of agreement among members of council was that the process should be heavily driven by community input. Lavelle said he will host a series of public meetings on the issue throughout the city ahead of the task force’s recommendations.

“(We should) really look at where the populations of people are who have economic housing pressures, where they want to live, what their ideas are for their neighborhoods,” said Councilwoman Deb Gross.

Councilwomen Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris both expressed concern about the current state of the city’s affordable housing, saying that it was often concentrated in specific areas, creating pockets of poverty.

“I’m not in favor of moving forward towards anything until we start addressing the issues we have in terms of housing currently. Until we get a handle on the Housing Authority, until we get a handle on our absentee landlords,” Kail-Smith said.

Lavelle introduced an amendment that would require the task force to have at least 19 people on it, representing the interests of community groups, residents, developers, and other stakeholders from many neighborhoods in the city.

While Councilman Dan Gilman ultimately voted in favor of that amendment, he warned against letting the task force grow too large to be effective.

“I’d rather take the blows of some people being angry that they’re not on the task force but get it right, than fill it with … people so that everybody feels like they’re at the table, and we sit here on December 31 with a document that’s weak or watered down or not done,” Gilman said.

Director of City Planning Ray Gastil was on hand at Wednesday’s council meeting, and said while he appreciated the concerns of Gilman and Kail-Smith, he also believes the task force represents an important opportunity for Pittsburgh.

He said he had been recently researching the history of city planning in Pittsburgh, and found that overall, the city has been a model for other major municipalities.

“It’s remarkable, though you don’t always recognize it, Pittsburgh has actually been a leader in planning and addressing major urban issues, certainly since the early 20th century,” Gastil said.

If the legislation receives final approval, the task force would be required to produce an initial report by July 31, 2015, with final recommendations being delivered no later than December 31, 2015.