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2018 Budget Proposal Leaves URA Property Maintenance, Facade Improvement Program Unfunded

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
The 2018 capital budget propsal does not include funding for the URA's Center for Innovation & Entreprenership, which supports facade improvements on main streets, among other projects.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2018 capital budget proposal does not include any funding for maintenance of the 1,400 vacant lots and 50 vacant structures owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

In a budget hearing Thursday morning, Council members Daniel Lavelle and Darlene Harris expressed concern about the lack of line items for property maintenance, as well as major developments or the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Last year, the city allocated $400,000 for property maintenance.

“The URA does the best that it can, but I would actually argue we’ve been underfunding property management for many, many years, and to now not fund it at all is ridiculous,” Lavelle said.

URA spokesperson Gigi Saladna wrote in an e-mail that the authority is responsible for maintaining more than 200 acres of land.

“Services on vacant land include cutting and cleaning of lots, hauling debris, putting up fences as needed, posting appropriate signage [and] immediate snow removal on pedestrian right-of-ways,” Saladna said.

She said vacant structures must all be sealed and secured to standards enforced by the city’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections.

URA Executive Director Robert Rubenstein said the authority needs at least $400,000 to $500,000 for each of the unfunded line items, adding that it might be possible to move that money from elsewhere in the budget.

“Now, the questions become what kind of hit does that have then on our housing programs and what’s in our pipeline,” Rubenstein said.

“Oh, it would be horrendous,” Lavelle responded.

Rubenstein said because the budget proposal spells out funding for specific line items, including personnel and economic development and housing, the URA can’t re-allocate funding for things like property maintenance.

The overall URA budget is nearly $900,000 less than last year.

Saladna said the budget proposal also jeopardizes funding for a variety of projects, including a program to improve storefronts and building facades.

In an email,  Jennifer Presutti, director of  the city Office of Management and Budget, wrote that the Peduto administration is aware of the URA's financial needs, but that the authority had other means by which to receive funding. 

"A number of their programs are self-sustaining," she wrote. "And other projects typically managed by the URA are now the city's responsibility."

She referenced the URA's "Party Wall Program," which provides funds and technical assistance to homeowners for some construction, as well as several major neighborhood developments. The city, she said, "is funding millions of dollars for the project."

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.