Housing | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2018 at 5:31 PM

Fight over Penn Plaza highlights city’s inability to plan neighborhood growth equitably
CP photo by Aaron Warnick
Former Penn Plaza building
In 2015, hundreds of evictions were announced at the Penn Plaza apartment complex in East Liberty. It created a flash point in Pittsburgh’s affordable-housing discussion. Since then, the arguments have only grown more aggressive, especially concerning development in East Liberty.

The battle continued over what will be developed on the former Penn Plaza site and has involved grocery giants like Whole Foods, a public park and ongoing chaos at Pittsburgh Planning Commission meetings. The developers, LG Realty, have recently proposed a retail/office space for the site, while housing-activists want the site to include affordable housing. There is no working relationship between housing-activists and LG.

And, there hasn’t been any in-depth analysis to determine what type of development would be best for East Liberty. The city needs more affordable housing, but does it need more units at that location? Would retail and office space add vibrancy to the Penn Avenue corridor or would it create too much traffic?

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2018 at 5:06 PM

click to enlarge State Rep. candidate Aerion Abney says weak political will is hindering affordable housing at former Civic Arena site
Photo courtesy of Aerion Abney
Aerion Abney
On May 1, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported how the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to acquire robust affordable-housing tax credits to help create ambitious affordable-housing plans for the proposed redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District.

The development has long been proposed and community groups have wanted the large-scale development to follow the master plan created by the Hill District Consensus Group. This plan asked that the development set aside 30 percent of its units to be affordable for people at and below 50 percent of the area median income. A deal brokered in November 2017 didn’t meet those guidelines, but the Penguins did agree to have 20 percent of the units be affordable for people at or below 60 percent of the area median income.

However, with the failure in acquiring the tax credits, the Penguins are now indicating the November 2017 affordable-housing requirements may be in jeopardy. The P-G reports the Penguins organization and its developer, McCormack Baron, “are looking to revert back to the deal originally negotiated with Hill leaders — 20 percent of the units affordable to households earning 60 to 80 percent.” The Penguins failed to received the 9 percent tax credits, but can still apply for 4 percent tax credits.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2018 at 3:38 PM

click to enlarge Advocates say Amazon HQ2 would not fit with Pittsburgh’s vision of equitable development
CP photo byt Ryan Deto
Protesters gathered outside the p4 conference on April 26
April 26 is the second day of the annual p4 conference at the David L. Lawrence convention center in Downtown Pittsburgh. The conference brings together regional and national leaders to discuss strategies on how to achieve equitable development in cities like Pittsburgh. Attendees at this year’s conference include Julian Castro, a Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama, and Nikki Fortunato Bas, the director of the nationwide economic-justice organization Partnership for Working Families.

But as leaders discussed and shared ideas on how best to build inclusive and equitable cities, about 30 housing and transit advocates gathered outside the conference earlier today to claim that some of the city's leaders, like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto are acting hypocritically. Laura Wiens, head of transit advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said Peduto’s failure to release Pittsburgh’s bid for Amazon second headquarters, also called HQ2, flies in the face of the values held up by p4. She also called on Peduto to make Pittsburgh's bid to Amazon public.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 1:48 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh residents and advocates want city leaders to make sure Amazon would bring equitable development
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Equitable-development advocates at a press conference in Downtown PIttsburgh
The tech giant Amazon is headquartered in Seattle, and residents there know all too well the combative relationship Amazon has had with local officials. Geekwire, a tech-news website based in Seattle, set up shop in Pittsburgh for several weeks to report on Pittsburgh’s emerging tech scene. In a January story discussing Amazon’s potential in Pittsburgh with Mayor Bill Peduto, Geekwire noted that “Until recently, the company and the city of Seattle had largely stopped communicating, making it much more difficult to work together to address the Seattle region’s massive traffic problems, housing affordability crisis, and growing socioeconomic disparity.”

Earlier today, a group of about 15 Pittsburgh residents and housing and transit advocates held a press conference at the City-County Building Downtown. They called on city officials to take steps to ensure the Seattle dynamic doesn't play out in Pittsburgh, if the city were to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

A sign at the press conference read out five goals advocates wanted to see advanced: Accountability and transparency, quality local jobs, affordable housing, equitable transit, and community investment.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 10:54 AM

Penn Plaza tenant group calls on city officials to reject proposed East Liberty development
CP photo by Aaron Warnick
Penn Plaza apartment complex before it was torn down
In summer of 2015, when property-development company LG Realty announced evictions of East Liberty’s Penn Plaza apartment complex, hundreds of residents were blindsided. After months-long negotiations, LG was allowed to move forward redeveloping the Penn Plaza property, in exchange for move-out costs for the tenants and money for Pittsburgh's affordable-housing fund.

However, the vast majority of Penn Plaza residents couldn’t find similar rents in East Liberty and were eventually forced to leave the neighborhood. Penn Plaza was torn down in 2017.

On March 14, the Pittsburgh city-planning department accepted LG's latest application for their redevelopment plan for the Penn Plaza site, which proposes the construction of office and retail spaces, as well as a parking lot. The Pittsburgh Planning Commission still has to vote on the proposal.

But the activist group that formed of former Penn Plaza tenants says the new plan doesn’t address issues that led to Penn Plaza tenants being forced from East Liberty in the first place. Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition (PPSA) is calling on Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission to reject LG’s redevelopment plan since it doesn't include housing.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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

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

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

click to enlarge How Pittsburgh finally funded its affordable-housing trust fund
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

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

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

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

click to enlarge Advocates call for Lexington Technology Park redevelopment to include affordable housing
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

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

Pittsburgh region's housing market responding well to job growth
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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