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'500 in 500 days:' Allegheny County pushes to move unhoused out of shelters, into housing

At max-capacity, Second Avenue Commons will be able to shelter nearly 180 people.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA news
The plan has been in the works for months before it was formally unveiled Thursday, but many said a devastating fire Tuesday that displaced nearly 200 people from Second Avenue Commons, the county’s major low-barrier homeless shelter, gave the issue even more urgency.

Allegheny County officials, flanked by housing advocates and other elected leaders, unveiled a major affordable housing initiative on Thursday they believe will help address a growing problem of unsheltered homelessness.

Calling for “500 in 500,” the push aims to move people out of shelters and into more permanent, stable housing by creating or identifying 500 units of deeply subsidized, affordable housing in the next 500 days.

“Caring for our unhoused neighbors is a critical piece to ensuring that we're building an Allegheny County for all,” said Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, speaking Thursday at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Innamorato has made housing a centerpiece issue, and has often spoken about the importance of the issue to her personally, because of housing instability her family experienced when she was younger.

“I want us all to remember that people don't generally plan to be unhoused,” she said. “It happens. You need to leave an unsafe situation or a bad relationship. The rent gets too high, a pipe bursts or a fire takes your home.”

The plan has been in the works for months before it was formally unveiled Thursday, but many said a devastating fire Tuesday that displaced nearly 200 people from Second Avenue Commons, the county’s major low-barrier homeless shelter, gave the issue even more urgency.

Officials said funding will come from pandemic relief funds, low income housing tax credits and philanthropic support from the Buhl Foundation, Eden Hall Foundation, Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, among other sources.

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As housing costs rise and pandemic-era supports have mostly ended, more housing, officials said, is needed to help people exit homeless shelters.

The 500 housing units mostly won’t be new construction, county officials said. Rather, they hope these new homes can come from changes such as better identifying available existing vacant public housing units, making new investments in existing unused apartments that can make them livable, converting existing market-rate units, and even converting buildings like former motels and nursing homes into apartments.

They said Thursday between Action Housing, Brandywine Communities, and nonprofit Rising Tide Partners, 75 units have already been committed — though not all are available yet.

“If you are a developer or a landlord, or you've got a motel laying around that you'd like to bring to the table, you can contact us at the Department of Human Services,” said Allegheny County Human Services Director Erin Dalton. 

“We have supports for you. We have the people. And we'd love for you to contact us,” she said.

In attendance Thursday were a host of the region’s elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and his top aides, as well as high-level officials from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Housing Authority, and Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, as well as numerous housing advocates.

“This level of coordination between all of these disparate arms of local government at the city and county level, working together and marching together towards the same purpose is new and a direct result, I think, of the county executive's vision, the imperatives that came out of the All in Allegheny plan,” said Ed Nusser, the county’s director of housing strategy, referring to a lengthy list of priorities and policy proposals Innamorato has laid out.

“I think it's a great initiative,” said Mayor Gainey.

The county’s annual point-in-time count has shown a steady increase in recent years in the number of people living without shelter: 65 people in 2021, more than 150 by 2023 and 169 people earlier this year.

Data shows that the length of time people are remaining in local homeless shelters has also increased. Roughly 75% of people in shelters are primarily there because of economic needs — rather than other problems — meaning they can be quickly rehoused with enough available affordable housing. Of those people who are homeless due to economic struggles, 76% are first-time homeless, and 46% have some income, according to county statistics.

One of those people was Pam Steimer, who spoke at Thursday’s event.

A single woman who works two jobs, she was priced out of her apartments and lived in a series of motels, before becoming completely homeless and ending up at Second Avenue Commons, where she was able to get help, she said. 

“This past month, I moved into an apartment in Brentwood and I'm loving it,” she said to cheers from the assembled crowd. “I'm able to cook meals in my own kitchen, sleep in my own bed, be surrounded by my own things, and in a neighborhood where I feel safe and secure.”

She said she shared her story “because I don't want anyone else to experience what I did. … if sharing my story can help even one person have an affordable home, then it's worth it.”

Officials also gave an update on the aftermath of Tuesday’s Second Avenue Commons fire. People displaced from the shelter can continue to stay at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center until more permanent options have been identified, said DHS Director Dalton. 

“We are working on those options now, and we will have more announcements next week about the longer term plans and where people will be able to transition,” Dalton said. 

Financial donations will be accepted at; clothing donations are being accepted at the Human Services Building, 1 Smithfield Street downtown, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

More information about the initiative is available online at

Updated: June 6, 2024 at 4:42 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.