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.
Pennsylvania state Rep. candidate Aerion Abney wishes the outcome was different. Hill District community leaders were hoping for a substantial amount of new affordable-housing units, but Abney is disappointed that the number keeps shrinking.
“It is unfortunate for the residents of the Hill District and the Greater Pittsburgh region that this project has experienced yet another setback,” wrote Abney in an email to City Paper. “The community has endured generational pain around this site and to see the way that it is currently being managed by all parties involved is disheartening to watch from the sidelines.”
Before the Civic Arena was constructed in the 1960s, the Hill District was a thriving, mostly African-American community. Then a large portion of the neighborhood was razed to make way for the Civic Arena, which was home to the Penguins until it was demolished in 2010. Since then, the site has held a parking lot. Much of the Hill District has never recovered from this.
Abney is a Democrat running in the 19th District against incumbent state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District) and Democrat Ebony Taylor. The 19th District encompasses all of the Hill District, as well as Uptown, Hazelwood, Downtown and much of the North Side. Abney believes the redevelopment plan and acquiring as much affordable housing as possible is too important not to happen. According to Forbes Magazine, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a pre-tax profit of $41 million in 2017 and $25 million in 2016. Abney feels the Penguins should adhere to the community’s master plan, despite failing to acquire the tax credits.
“If not, it sends the message to other developers that they too can come into the community and disregard the master plan,” wrote Abney. “If not, it will only proliferate the Pittsburgh problem of having some people who live like the Jetsons while others live like the Flintstones.”
Abney, who has worked at local nonprofits and won grants for them, feels a lack of political will contributed to the Penguins waffling on how much affordable housing they want to provide. He wrote to CP that a state representative should be more strict when working with the Penguins, given the multiple delays to the redevelopment project.
“I would have had the political will to hold the Penguins accountable for the many delays to this project and push for more than a slap on the wrist that enforces no real sense of urgency to do much of anything,” wrote Abney.
Abney also called out Wheatley for receiving more than $5,000 in campaign donations from Penguins CEO David Morehouse over the last several years. He wrote that he would have rejected these contributions if he were state representative, given the ongoing negotiations between the city of Pittsburgh, the Hill District Community and the Penguins.
If elected, Abney wrote that he would push for statewide mandatory inclusionary zoning policies. These policies require that new housing developments set aside a certain percentage of their units to be affordable to low-income renters. Abney also wrote that he believes other affordable-housing policies should be pushed in Harrisburg, including rent-control bills, tax-relief rules for people living in gentrifying neighborhoods, and additional statewide incentives for first-time home buyers.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is on May 15.