$10 Million Dispensed From Housing Opportunity Fund To Help Renters, Homeowners And Developers

Jun 4, 2019

Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved spending $10 million from the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Housing Opportunity Fund on Tuesday.  

Celeste Scott, a housing justice organizer with Pittsburgh United, said the allocations were a win for people struggling to afford housing. 

"There was a lot of community voice in it, we were able to talk to the advisory board and really inform the decisions... it was good for us," Scott said.

The URA administers the fund, which is financed with revenue from the realty transfer tax levied on property sales within the city. Following the recommendation of the agency's advisory board, the money will be disbursed in six different areas:

  • A "rental gap" initiative, which would provide loans for the new construction and preservation of affordable rental units;
  • A housing stabilization program to provide short-term rental assistance to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness;
  • Assistance with down payment and closing costs for first-time homebuyers;
  • A homeowner assistance program, to help owners repair unsafe and unhealthy conditions;
  • Development of for-sale housing, which would aid developers with rehabilitation, new construction and other development costs;
  • A demonstration program which would be for to-be-determined "housing emergencies."   

Council's vote was 8-0 in favor of the spending, with Erika Strassburger absent. But while Theresa Kail-Smith said she was happy to support the effort, she was disappointed she had not heard from the Law Department to answer her legal questions. 

"I have asked now for almost three months if the council is legally able to vote on the use of the rental assistance, and we have not gotten the answer," she said. "And so it makes me think that we're not able to, because I've been hearing rumors that we're not able to use the funds in that regard. ... A simple 'yes, we can use it that way' would make me so much more comfortable that council was doing what we were legally able to do." 

The Housing Opportunity Fund was created in 2016 to bolster housing affordability and accessibility within Pittsburgh, where concerns about gentrification and a loss of affordable housing have been on the rise. Some residents have already taken advantage of the down payment and closing cost program from last year's budget.

Danielle Graham Robinson is a realtor and has had clients who made use of HOF money. She said that overall, the $10 million is a great win for the city, but she does see room for improvement. 

"Personally, I would like to see the fund expand county-wide, but I think for now this is a step in the right direction," she said. "Not everybody wants to live in the city, and there's a lot of parts that people think are in the city, but are not. I have clients who want to live in Wilkinsburg and they think it's part of the city, but it isn't."  

Robinson said she would also like to see a component for borrowers who want to rehab a home.

"I think it would be great if they added a component allowed for borrowers that are looking to rehab a home that is currently for sale, but not in a good enough condition to pass an FHA inspection [provided to a mortgage lender to verify a property's value] or in some cases even a conventional appraisal." 

Robinson said she sees that people want to buy, but the housing supply is limited within the price range of lower-income buyers -- even with assistance from the HOF.