Eighty percent of students at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh have previously been incarcerated, and according to the Homewood-based nonprofit, about 30 percent of them are homeless at any given time.
That’s why the Trade Institute, which offers instruction in the trades and helps graduates find jobs, plans to create its own housing.
The institute announced last week that it will renovate a nearby duplex using $450,000 in government grants. The funding comes from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, and Allegheny County’s Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.
Maggie Beldecos, the Trade Institute’s director of giving and strategic initiatives, said institute students often have trouble affording rent or finding a landlord who will rent to someone with past convictions.
Such challenges disproprotionately affect formerly incarcerated people, who are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, according to a 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Trade Institute students who can’t secure housing, Beldecos said, often couch-surf or live on porches or in their cars – all forms of homelessness, according to county guidelines.
She said the institute’s decision to offer its own housing “was kind of our taking matters into our own hands and solving a problem that we kept seeing on repeat.”
Beldecos added that, while 85 percent of Trade Institute students graduate with jobs, access to stable housing is “very fundamental” to their continued success.
“Without housing, not knowing where you’re going to stay on a given night,” Beldecos said, “it’s impossible to know how you’re going to get to work the next day.”
Beldecos said the duplex will house six students at a time, and that each student will get his own bedroom. The Trade Institute plans to start renting units next summer. Leases will last six to twelve months, with subsidized rents costing tenants about $50 to $100 a month.
The Trade Institute will set a portion of rents aside, Beldecos said, to help students pay for more permanent housing later.
Pittsburgh-based ACTION-Housing has worked closely with the Trade Institute to develop its temporary housing program. Beldecos said the housing provider has “committed to place students [in permanent housing] after they’ve had a chance to build up a rental history of paying rent on time” while living in the duplex.
Beldecos said the structure is currently in a state of significant disrepair and will practically need to be gutted. That’s one reason, she said, neighboring residents welcome the project. She said Trade Institute representatives have discussed the upcoming renovation with numerous community members.
“We have had nothing but support,” Beldecos said. “I think the idea of renovating a beautiful old home that had seen a lot of neglect was appealing. Also, many of the students who come to the Trade Institute are from Homewood, so these are [the residents’] neighbors.”
Beldecos said the Trade Institute is exploring opportunities for its carpentry students to serve as apprentices on the project. The nonprofit will pay prevailing wages and purchase as many materials and furnishings as possible from local businesses and artists, Beldecos said.
She said that with the encouragement of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Trade Institute has applied for additional funding to develop more parcels into housing for formerly incarcerated people.