It’s Almost Construction Season In Pittsburgh, So The URA Is Busy

Mar 15, 2019

Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund won approval for a new program: emergency rental assistance. The initiative was one of many greenlit by the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority on Thursday.

An accident, an emergency car repair—there are many reasons someone can fall behind on rent. While Allegheny County has a hotline for people facing homelessness, there aren’t many resources for people before they reach that point, said Jessica Smith Perry, director of the Housing Opportunity Fund.

“The goal of this program is to help them when they need it to keep them stable, hence the name 'Housing Stabilization Program so they never have to call [the hotline],” she said.

The $750,000 Housing Stabilization Program will be administered by five nonprofits: Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center, Mercy Life Center Corporation, Neighborhood Legal Services, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and the Young Women's Christian Association of Pittsburgh. Families who make less than 50 percent of the area median income are eligible for up to $3,000 of assistance over a maximum of four months. The funds can be used to pay back utilities, rent, or help someone put down a security deposit if they need to move to a more affordable apartment. 

The URA board approved another housing opportunity fund effort to keep people in their homes—Neighborhood Legal Services will work with homeowners who lack a clear title to their house and to prevent foreclosure. An estimated 25 percent of people in Pittsburgh who identify as homeowners don’t actually have their name on the deed, said Smith Perry.

Without the title, homeowners can’t sell their homes nor access lines of credit to do repairs, said Christine Kirby, director of development for Neighborhood Legal Services.

“This project contributes to the neighborhood vitality,” she said. “When a person lives in their home and their home’s well taken care of, neighborhoods thrive and communities thrive.”

The board also issued approvals for a number of landmark projects. 

An incremental renovation of the New Granada Theater is underway in the Hill District. The URA approved two funding initiatives. The Hill District Community Development Corporation is almost done renovating the first floor space and hopes to open it imminently with $40,000 in URA funds to complete exterior work, said executive director Marimba Milliones.

“We consider this interim use to activate the entrepreneurship and retail development of Centre Avenue,” she said.

The project will receive an additional $50,000 in matching URA funds if the Hill CDC wins a federal grant for further renovations to the whole building. The University of Pittsburgh’s Community Engagement Center announced it will anchor the development.

On the North Side, development on the Garden Theater Block is once again moving forward. The URA approved the sale of five parcels on West North Avenue and Federal Street to Trek Development and Q Development for $109,328 to build 63 apartments. 

In Larimer and East Liberty, the URA board approved the first in what will be a network of parks planned for the two neighborhoods. Liberty Green Park will cover more than 3 acres at the corner of Larimer Avenue and Station Street, with water features, a picnic and grill area, as well as more passive, pastoral areas. The park system is part of the URA’s contribution to the $30 million dollar federal Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant that renovated and built homes in Larimer and East Liberty.

A request for proposals will soon be released for a new affordable housing development at South Beatty Street planned for East Liberty, though two lots must first be acquired from the city and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. ACTION Housing won a loan of $1.2 million to build a 35-unit development in Lawrenceville called Sixth Ward Flats. All the units will be affordable to people making at or below 60 percent of area median income. Based on 2018 guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family would need to make less than $45,600.

The commercial portion of Lexington Technology Park, formerly home to Allegheny County Emergency Services in North Point Breeze, was sold to ICON Development PGH and KBK Enterprises to build affordable work spaces.