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Housing

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How re-allocating a Pittsburgh parking tax can combat the city's affordable-housing shortage

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 5:39 PM

The Penn Mathilda affordable-housing complex in Bloomfield is an example of a project that could benefit from parking-tax diversion. - PHOTO COURTESY ACTION HOUSING
  • Photo courtesy Action Housing
  • The Penn Mathilda affordable-housing complex in Bloomfield is an example of a project that could benefit from parking-tax diversion.
On Feb. 8, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority voted to divert up to $6.8 million in parking-tax revenue to help fund an affordable-housing project in the Lower Hill District, near PPG Paints Arena.

The millions will be raised over 19 years by the expected revenue of a 423-space parking garage going up near PPG Paints Arena. The City’s Edge mixed-income development will be the beneficiary of the diversion, and the apartment complex will be home to 32 market-rate units, and 74 subsidized units located next to the parking garage.

On Feb. 8, URA Chair Kevin Acklin said the vote fits with the overall philosophy of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

How Pittsburgh finally funded its affordable-housing trust fund

Posted By on Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Corey O'Connor discussing the affordable-housing fund at a December Pittsburgh City Council meeting
In early 2015, Pittsburgh City Council knew it needed to investigate and address the city’s affordable- housing problems. Back then, there was a reported shortage of more than 18,000 subsidized affordable units in the city, and since then that figure has only marginally decreased. In January 2015, City Councilor Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District) introduced legislation to create an Affordable Housing Task Force, and the task force was created in February 2015.

Then that summer, more than 200 residents of the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty were given eviction notices, and Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing crisis took center stage. Much has happened since then, including continuing disputes around the Penn Plaza site and more legislative activity at city council.

This month, on Dec. 19, city council passed a bill that would fund its $10-million-a-year affordable-housing trust fund called the Housing Opportunity fund. The bill passed by a vote of 7-2 with councilors Natalia Rudiak (D-Carrick) and Darlene Harris (D-North Side) voting against the bill. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has indicated support for the bill.

The fund will be filled by raising the city’s realty-transfer tax up .5 percent for 2018 and 2019, and then up to 1 percent in 2020. This means closing costs on home purchases in the city will go up slightly; those costs are typically split between the buyer and seller. The $10 million Housing Opportunity Fund will be used to provide gap funds on new affordable-housing projects, as well as help low-income home-buyers with home purchases and rehab costs.


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Friday, August 25, 2017

Penn Plaza residents and advocates pressure Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to enact broad affordable-housing legislation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 2:06 PM

Affordable-housing advocates protesting in Riverview Park on Aug. 24 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates protesting in Riverview Park on Aug. 24
When longtime Penn Plaza residents Myrtle Stern and Maybel Duffy were forced to vacate their East Liberty homes earlier this year, their options for replacement housing were limited. They need elevator access, as they are in their 70s and have trouble navigating stairs. “I have arthritis and a metal knee,” said Duffy at an Aug. 24 protest in Riverview Park. “I can’t do steps.”

The best option for them was Auburn Towers apartments, in Verona, Pa., which is more than an hour away from Penn Plaza via public transit. And Stern says this move has lowered her quality of life.

“When I lived in East Liberty, I used to walk a block or two to visit with my daughter," said Stern in a press release. “When I got to feeling bad, I used to babysit my grandkids, and then I would feel better. But I had to move out to Verona, where there are so few buses that I feel trapped out here, especially on the weekends when there are no buses at all. I want to be able to return to my home in East Liberty.”

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Advocates call for Lexington Technology Park redevelopment to include affordable housing

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Laura Wiens, of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, speaking at an August URA meeting - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Laura Wiens, of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, speaking at an August URA meeting
When it comes to building affordable housing, there is no better place to do so than near public transportation. Since low-income people are less likely to own cars than higher-income individuals, good access to public transit is necessary for affordable-housing dwellers to travel to work, visit family and just get around. According to the nonprofit Center for Housing Policy, people in the Pittsburgh Metro area spend 34 percent of their income on transportation, the second highest figure of large U.S. metro areas, just behind Tampa.

And at a Aug. 10 meeting, this thinking led a group of affordable-housing advocates to request that Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority include affordable-housing measures in its pitch to redevelop the Lexington Technology Park, in North Point Breeze.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Pittsburgh region's housing market responding well to job growth

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 4:05 PM

December 2016 groundbreaking of new loft-style condos in Bloomfield - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • December 2016 groundbreaking of new loft-style condos in Bloomfield
From 2010-2015 the Pittsburgh region’s economy started to take off. Not in the same way as booming cities like Denver and San Jose, but for a Rust Belt city with decades of decline in its wake, not too shabby. According to data compiled by Apartment List, the region had a positive change in total employment of about 30,000 jobs from 2010-2015. Allegheny County led the way during this span with 18,000 jobs.

And when regions start to see some positive job growth, new housing construction tends to follow. But when new housing doesn’t keep up, problems can arise. In cities like San Jose, this is a problem because the California Bay Area city isn’t building enough houses to keep up with demand, and housing prices are skyrocketing (San Jose is seeing housing prices rise faster than any other U.S. city).

But according to data from Apartment List, the Pittsburgh region is on a good track. From 2010-2015, the Pittsburgh metro area saw 20,000 new units of housing construction. This gives the region a jobs-housing ratio of 1.5.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is dialog surrounding Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing trust fund stuck in one gear?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 3:57 PM

Pittsburgh City Councilors meet at an July 18 post-agenda meeting on affordable housing. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Pittsburgh City Councilors meet at an July 18 post-agenda meeting on affordable housing.
When Pittsburgh City Council convened a post-agenda meeting on July 18, councilors in attendance were given a sales pitch on why the best way to fill the city’s affordable-housing trust fund is to take out a $100 million bond and pay it back by raising Pittsburgh’s real-estate transfer tax by 1 percent. Councilor Daniel Lavelle (D-Hill District), who hosted the meeting, invited eight guests to speak, and all agreed raising the real-estate transfer tax is the way to go.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Lawrenceville breaks ground on Pittsburgh’s first Community Land Trust

Posted By on Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Mock-up of Upper Lawrenceville's Community Land Trust - IMAGE COURTESY OF LAWRENCEVILLE CORPORATION
  • Image courtesy of Lawrenceville Corporation
  • Mock-up of Upper Lawrenceville's Community Land Trust
Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood has one of the hottest and fastest-growing housing markets in the region. A few years ago, houses typically sold for less than $100,000, but now some properties have reached prices of more than $500,000. According to the nonprofit community developers at the Lawrenceville Corporation, the percentage of property sales $250,000 and above has doubled since 2012.

As a response to this exploding market, the Lawrenceville Corporation knew it needed to do something bold. As City Paper reported in January 2016, Lawrenceville Corporation created the region’s first Community Land Trust (CLT), hoping to sell homes to low-income residents and to combat the neighborhood’s affordable-housing struggles. And last month, the group broke ground on its seven-property CLT.

“This is a direct and catalytic response by the Lawrenceville Corporation and our partners to the issue of housing insecurity. The neighborhood, through the award-winning Upper Lawrenceville Vision Plan, set 'housing for all' as a priority. … We are excited to be taking one more step in our disruptive, innovative approach to create housing that is permanently affordable,” said Lawrenceville Corporation director Matt Galluzzo in a press release.

CLTs maintain permanent affordability for the properties by having an entity (in this case, Lawrenceville Corporation) retain ownership of the land, but sell the homes to qualifying residents who earn 80 percent or less of the area’s average income — about $55,000 for a family of four. The homes in the Lawrenceville CLT will be sold for between $125,000 to $140,000 and will be constructed new or will be remodels.

Ed Nusser, of Lawrenceville Corporation, said in 2016 that CLTs allow homeowners to grow a limited amount of equity, but leaves them unable to sell the property to the highest bidder. Instead, Lawrenceville Corporation will manage the sale of the property to another low-income buyer. Nusser said that land-trust homeowners can make alterations to their properties and will otherwise have all the freedoms of a typical homeowner.

The properties will be located in upper Lawrenceville, near the corner of McCandless Avenue and Duncan Street. The CLT was funded by a variety of private and public entities, including Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has been supportive of the initiative.

“As a 21st-century city, we must have innovative out-of-the-box solutions to 21st-century issues. The City is proud to support Lawrenceville Corporation's CLT initiative­ — a direct implementation of the City's Affordable Housing Task Force recommendations with clear alignment with our p4 Performance Measures,” said Peduto spokesperson Katie O’Malley in a press release.

And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that there have already been 65 applications to purchase the Lawrenceville CLT homes. Lawrenceville Corporation says applications are still open online at the group's website.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Affordable-housing advocates want Pittsburgh to buy Penn Plaza to maintain affordable units

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 2:44 PM

Affordable-housing advocates rally on Smithfield Street in Downtown, Pittsburgh. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates rally on Smithfield Street in Downtown, Pittsburgh.
In June 2015, when LG Realty Advisors placed 90-day eviction notices on the doors of the 312 units that made up Penn Plaza apartments in East Liberty, many believed this was just another instance of low-income renters being pushed out of their neighborhood because redevelopment was coming.

Instead, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto met with Penn Plaza residents, and more than 100 of them formed a tenant council to advocate for their rights. Soon after, a deal was reached that got move-out costs for the tenants and affordable-housing commitments from the city, in turn for allowing the developers, LG, to move forward with their plans.

But things started to go south for the developers after that. A fight over the public park next to Penn Plaza went in favor of the public, and the Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted 9-0 against the developers' plans because they said LG failed to collaborate with the community. Also, the major business tenant of the proposed Penn Plaza redevelopment, Whole Foods Market, pulled out.

Now, the affordable-housing advocates who have been rallying around the Penn Plaza saga, Homes For All Pittsburgh, want the city of Pittsburgh to purchase the remaining Penn Plaza building to preserve it as affordable housing and allow the tenants to own the building, like a co-op. The building, 5600 Penn Ave., is set to be demolished soon (the other building 5704 Penn Ave. was demolished in 2016).

Today, about 20 people held a rally on Smithfield Street, Downtown, demanding that Penn Plaza be sold to the city.

Pittsburgh, through the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, actually tried to purchase Penn Plaza back in 2015, but LG declined. Helen Gerhardt, of Homes for All, believes it is time to reconsider that plan.

"The city has an obligation to provide fair and affordable housing," says Gerhardt. "We want someone to own Penn Plaza who has that obligation."

Gerhardt says that in addition to providing affordable rents for low-income residents, tenant-owned buildings can have positive effects on residents, as they tend to provide some onsite jobs and social services that can help lift residents out of poverty. She cites success on the North Side, where the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing was able to purchase scattered sites and keep them affordable and tenant-owned. Gerhardt says Homes For All will continue to call out LG until it sells the building to the city.

Gerhardt also added she is grateful that the city and Pittsburgh City Council have taken steps to address affordable-housing issues, but says substantial affordable-housing legislation must come soon. She says she has spoken with developers who are on board with inclusionary zoning requirements, where developers set aside a certain percentage of units that maintain affordability. City council is currently considering creating a Housing Opportunity Fund, which would provide $10 million a year to pay for affordable-housing projects and provide more leverage for state and federal housing grants.

Gerhardt says more and more low-income Pittsburghers are being pushed out of their neighborhoods due to rising rents and its "absolutely" time for council to act on these proposals.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Pittsburgh affordable-housing advocates rally in East Liberty; decry public subsidies to luxury development

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:04 PM

Affordable-housing advocates occupying the intersection of Centre and Penn avenues in East Liberty - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates occupying the intersection of Centre and Penn avenues in East Liberty
The completed Eastside and Bond apartment complex in East Liberty is perched directly above the MLK East Busway transit stop, and is a block from amenities like Target, Giant Eagle and a plethora of restaurants. In a sense, the apartment complex with 360 brand-new units is a perfect example of how city living can be extremely beneficial to residents of any income bracket: great public-transit access, close to grocery stores, and quality living conditions.

Unfortunately for Pittsburghers of lower- and middle-income means, living in Eastside and Bond isn’t attainable; a one-bedroom apartment there starts a $1,900 and two-bedroom units start at $2,300. And a group of affordable-housing advocates are upset about it.

On March 9, more than 60 people filled the intersection at Centre and Penn avenue, in front of Eastside and Bond, to protest the lack of affordable housing at this complex and other new luxury apartment units that have been filling the area. In addition to the 360 units at Eastside and Bond, developer Walnut Capital has recently created 555 luxury units in the area.

The advocates placed furniture in the intersection to highlight how luxury apartments are making it harder for low-income residents to find affordable places to live in and around East Liberty. The group rallied for 35 minutes in the street. Some cars honked in anger, while other drivers gave thumbs ups. Pittsburgh Police officers eventually directed traffic around the rally, and let the rally-goers exit the street when they were finished.

Alethea Sims, of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, says longtime East Liberty residents are leaving the neighborhood en masse, even when given a Section 8 subsidized housing voucher.

“We can take a voucher and go any place,” says Sims. “But why can’t we use that voucher here? Why aren't there mixed-income units here?”

East Liberty Development Inc. statistics from 2015 show that East Liberty had 866 subsidized units, comprising about 32 percent of the rental units in the neighborhood. This is actually one of the higher percentages of affordable-units of any Pittsburgh neighborhood. However, these stats were compiled before the completion of the 360 Eastside and Bond luxury units. Additionally, the waitlist for subsidized housing in East Liberty is incredibly long and low-income residents have to wait between two to five years to be placed.

Additionally, a February TribLive article highlighted how local tax abatements have been going to developments for years, even on projects that supply no affordable units. Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and local school districts typically grant property-tax relief to developers as incentives for new construction projects. Housing advocates at the rally pointed out that East Side and Bond, owned by Mosites Construction and Development Company, and three nearby luxury apartment complexes owned by Walnut Capital, received a combination of more than $12 million in city and school-district tax cuts.

“We put millions of dollars of public money into these buildings, without any affordable units in return” said Helen Gerhardt, of housing-advocacy group Homes For All. “That is how you get displacement.”

Even though many developers are granted local tax cuts, they are not required to build affordable units in return. Typically, developers only undertake mixed-income or affordable developments when they can secure large grants from state and/or federal governments. It’s rare for developers to build affordable units without these grants. Currently, there are only about seven such developers in the region who pursue these grants, including Action Housing and Trek Development.

Walnut Capital or Mosites didn’t return request for comment by press time.

Homes For All's Gerhardt called on developers to help East Liberty residents, instead of just focusing on profit-driven development. "These developers only care about profits," she said. "About $3.6 million of our money when to the [Eastside and Bond] development, and none of those units are affordable."

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pittsburgh housing advocates rally for better living conditions at Penn Plaza

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 4:14 PM

More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • More than 80 housing advocates rally in front of City-County Building Downtown
O’Harold Hoots is one of about 25 residents remaining in the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty. The complex is one of East Liberty’s last below-market-rate, non-subsidized housing complexes, and it’s set to be demolished at the end of March. On Feb. 21, Hoots spoke at a rally in front of the City-County Building and decried the current living conditions of Penn Plaza.

“We are living in inhumane conditions,” said Hoots to a crowd of about 80. “We are awakened by loud construction noises, and I have caught many rodents in the building.”

In 2015, Penn Plaza’s owner, LG Realty Advisors, issued 90-day eviction notices to some 300 families that lived in Penn Plaza. In response to the pending mass eviction, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in and helped negotiate a deal that led to dollars for a city affordable-housing trust fund. Also, Penn Plaza residents received relocation assistance, and LG was allowed to redevelop the property.

The first building, at 5704 Penn Ave., came down February 2016, displacing some residents, while others remained in the other building at 5600 Penn Ave. Myrtle Stern lives there and has lived at Penn Plaza for nine years. She told the crowd the owners are already doing demolition work to her building including, “digging out the ceiling and tearing up the floors.”

Randall Taylor, a former Penn Plaza resident, helped to organize the rally and was very critical of Penn Plaza’s owners, who are attempting to redevelop the property into a mixed-use development, anchored by a new Whole Foods Market and luxury apartments.

“[LG Realty] have displaced hundreds of familes, for what, a few extra dollars,” said Taylor. “We welcome new development, but not at the cost of the old residents of the neighborhood.”

LG's initial Penn Plaza redevelopment proposal was rejected by a unanimous 9-0 vote from the Pittsburgh Planning Commission and LG has appealed that decision, as well as suing the city, saying the planning commission was too hasty in its decision. Attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents LG Realty, did not return a request for comment by press time. City Paper spotted LG principal Brian Gumberg recording the rally on his phone today, but he left the scene before the rally concluded.

Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said he is aware of the complaints of substandard living conditions at Penn Plaza. He added that the mayor’s office sent a letter to LG on Feb. 16, requesting the owners to stop any alleged construction work on the property until all residents vacate and LG provides proof they are meeting the living standards required by the Allegheny County Health Department.

Acklin said the city will seek legal action if LG does not comply. “If [LG] doesn’t provide those assurance by the end of the day, we are tee’d up to go to court,” said Acklin at a press conference after the rally. “If they are unable to certify compliance, then we are ready to go to court to force them.”

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