Hill District residents are, once again, battling with Pittsburgh Penguins management and developers of the former Civic Arena site -- this time over the amount of affordable housing proposed for the lower Hill District development.
The community wants 30 percent of the residential development to be affordable housing, but at a Nov. 21 community meeting, the plan unveiled by developer McCormack Baron Salazar only included 20 percent.
The plan could be taken to the City Planning Commission as early as next week: The meeting, organized by the Penguins, was meant to show the community what that proposal will look like.
“If this is going to be successful we’re going to need to work with the community,” said Travis Williams, chief operating officer for the Penguins.
But the presentation came to a halt when residents complained the presentation was taking too long and not addressing their concerns.
“It seems like you’re slow-walking us through this presentation, but you’re taking your plan to the planning commission next week,” said Carl Redwood from the Hill District Consensus Group.
“The majority of the people sitting here don’t have faith in this process,” said Frankie Williams, a resident. “We’re not getting anything. I don’t trust the Penguins.”
“We don’t want to see anymore pretty pictures,” said Phyllis Gaphoor, another resident. “We’ve been waiting for four years. We don’t want to hear all the fluff.”
Up until that point, the presentation had discussed wealth-building initiatives, employment, and opportunities for business owners. Development will seek to grant at least 25 percent of contracts to minority-owned businesses, and 10 percent to firms owned by women. The presentation also promised 20 percent of employment would go those living in the Hill District ZIP code.
But the community's ability to be part of the housing mix became the issue. Neighborhood activists say that if only 20 percent of units are affordable housing, the development will exclude the African-American population. Activists are also unhappy with how “affordable” is being defined.
Under the current proposal, an affordable one-bedroom apartment would cost around $750 per month. According to a 2010 market analysis prepared by the Penguins, a tenant would have to earn $39,100 per year to be able to afford it. To afford the other one-bedroom units in the proposed development, a person would have to earn $52,000.
Vincent Bennett, chief operating officer of McCormack Baron Salazar said additional public subsidies would be required to increase the proportion of affordable housing, in order to offset lost rental income.
“If there’s a 30 percent goal, let’s look at how we fill the funding gap,” Bennett said. “I don’t think the subsidies are available to do more affordable housing. I’m not going to over promise.”
“At the end of the day, we’re committed to bringing development here and having the community benefit. Unfortunately there’s going to be places where we don’t see eye to eye,” Williams said on behalf of the Penguins. “I can tell you we are investing a lot of money into this.”
Redwood suggested the Penguins use revenue from their parking lots to fill the funding gap.
The meeting ended with these issues still unresolved. But Hill District Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he wouldn’t approve a plan until the community is satisfied.
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