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Urban Redevelopment Authority Set To Launch Program To Support Homeownership in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh officials are looking toward affordable home ownership as a vehicle to combat blight and displacement in the city. Mayor Bill Peduto joined the Urban Redevelopment Authority Wednesday to announce the creation of a bond-funded program that would lower barriers to home ownership.

OwnPGH will use a $22 million bond issuance to offer loans to single-family home buyers at competitive rates regardless of their credit score. The URA will put up an additional $4 million to help the new homeowners with building restoration costs.

Officials stood outside a recently renovated home in the city’s Larimer neighborhood to announce the initiative. URA deputy executive director Diamonte Walker said the home, which already has a buyer in the pipeline, was slated to be demolished.

“It [would have been] vacant like the lot next to it. But with some creative ingenuity … we’ve been able to convert this into a home ownership opportunity for a low to moderate income family from the Larimer neighborhood,” Walker said.

OwnPGH would initially focus on the city's Larimer neighborhood. But Walker said the program could expand to help all of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods. 

Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, URA executive director Greg Flisram and deputy executive director Walker also announced organizational changes to improve the land acquisition efforts of the Pittsburgh Land Bank.

The Pittsburgh Land Bank is designed to convert vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties into productive properties. Created in 2014, the land bank has yet to sell a single piece of property.

Walker will become the executive director of the Pittsburgh Land Bank Friday. Officials say the leadership change is part of the URA’s effort to provide more support for the bank’s mission.

The changes come alongside a planned piece of legislation in the state senate that would make it easier for the land bank to acquire vacant and distressed properties. Sen. Wayne Fontana said Wednesday he plans to introduce a bill that would allow the land bank to acquire the properties at sheriff’s sales at amounts equal to the outstanding claims and liens against the properties regardless of bids by other parties, similar to the powers granted to Philadelphia’s successful land bank.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
20 Mayflower Street in Larimer was set for demolition before the city decided to renovate the building now set to be bought by a city resident, according to Walker.

OwnPGH also includes an effort by the city’s finance department that would make purchasing city-owned side yards easier for homeowners.

Currently, a purchaser must request a title report on the property through the city to determine its legal status, outstanding taxes, liens and ownership history. The city has a backlog of 100 title reports stretching back years.

According to Peduto, the process to get a title report could take a purchaser three to five years. But now the city finance department will direct buyers to order their own title reports through the vendor of their choice. This would incentivize buyers to finish title reports quickly, according to Peduto.

OwnPGH could roll out as early as the fall. The URA board is expected to vote on the initiative at its meeting Thursday. Once launched, applicants would apply online for one of the city’s properties.  

“Cumulatively these efforts of OwnPGH will not only get vacant homes and lots back onto tax rolls, but improve neighborhood quality of life and help Pittsburghers accomplish the dream of home ownership,” Peduto said.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.