Pittsburgh City Council Rejects An Effort To Spread Affordable Housing Money More Broadly

Jun 17, 2020

Pittsburgh City Council voted against a study that could have changed how a new pot of money is spent on affordable housing. Tuesday’s vote is the latest chapter in a years-long fight over the redevelopment of the former Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty.

The site sits in the neighborhood’s Transit Revitalization Investment District or TRID, which extends a half-mile from the East Liberty stop on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. New property tax revenue generated by development in the TRID can be used to make a number of investments, from bike and pedestrian infrastructure to green space and affordable housing.

As a result of court battles over the Penn Plaza development, parent company LG Realty Advisors agreed to dedicate half of the TRID money from its project to help finance more affordable housing, and the city agreed to consider expanding the area where the money could be spent.

The expansion is necessary to address the city’s shortage of affordable housing, said Alethea Sims, president of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty.

“Let’s use that money to … bring people back to the community that were displaced through the gentrification of East Liberty and surrounding areas,” she said.

But council disagreed. Councilor Ricky Burgess, whose district includes East Liberty, said there are already enough projects in the existing area to make use of the funding, making an expansion unnecessary. Burgess said the money must remain in the neighborhood.

“We have to build more housing in the core of East Liberty to bring back the residents who were displaced,” he said. “That’s the best thing we can do.”

Rick Swartz leads the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, one of four neighborhood groups that was involved in litigation with the city and LG Realty. He said there are a number of projects just over the border of the existing TRID that could quickly provide options for people looking for an affordable home.

“When you say we’re keeping the money in East Liberty, it almost sounds like East Liberty is it’s own municipality,” he said. “The displacement from Penn Plaza … spilled out into our neighborhoods, as well.”

After a brief discussion, just two councilors voted to study the matter.