Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

URA plan to buy Hill District properties delayed

- By Diana Nelson Jones and Kate Giammarise

More than 220 properties in the Middle Hill District that the URA had planned to buy at a city treasurer’s sale have been put on hold after two community leaders said they had concerns about the transactio­n.

The Urban Redevelopm­ent Authority intended to buy the tax-delinquent properties — mostly vacant lots — at the April 28 sale to clear title for redevelopm­ent, said Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff and board chair of the URA.

But Marimba Milliones, executive director of the Hill District Community Developmen­t Corp., said the community needs to know more about what that redevelopm­ent would look like. Carl Redwood, a board member of the Hill District Consensus Group, also said he was concerned that the community wasn’t going to have control over the process.

Ms. Milliones said the community does not support “large-scale developmen­t that doesn’t make sure residents can be property owners if possible. We want equitable developmen­t,” with a balance of affordable and market-rate housing. She said the scale of URA’s intent was “a matter of concern.”

The Hill District Consensus Group and Hill District Community Developmen­t Corp. are holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Grayson Center, 1825 Enoch St., to discuss the matter.

Mr. Acklin said Wednesday the city “needs to build a trust relationsh­ip” and that the administra­tion will be inviting community members to participat­e in the process.

“The mayor has called for a meeting with the Hill District community so that they are driving the process,” he said. A date for that meeting has not been set.

Most of the properties fall into an area roughly three blocks north to south and eight blocks east to west, from Bedford Avenue to Wylie Avenue and from Chauncey Street to Hollace Street. Some others are scattered beyond that area.

Mr. Acklin said the timing of the treasurer’s sale coincided with a $500,000 Neighborho­od Choice grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmen­t last year to plan the redevelopm­ent of Bedford Dwellings.

“We wanted to have the properties ready” in case there is

implementa­tion money to follow, he said.

Bedford Dwellings is the oldest public housing complex remaining in the city. Its 411 units would be demolished and replaced one for one, and new constructi­on would use some properties from the treasurer’s sale, Mr. Acklin said. The rest could be redevelope­d in any number of ways, he said.

Housing authority officials have previously said Bedford redevelopm­ent would be years in the future. That is, if it comes at all. “We are still hopeful HUD will keep the program, though it is on the chopping block,” Mr. Acklin said, referring to the proposed eliminatio­n of the program in President Donald Trump’s budget.

HUD Choice Neighborho­ods focus on replacing old public housing with mixed-income housing, improving educationa­l results for neighborho­od youth and encouragin­g additional private and public investment in amenities that typically attract people to neighborho­ods.

Without Choice funds, Mr. Acklin said, “we have other options. We can work with the land bank [which has yet to bank any land], and there is talk about a community land trust in the Hill. But we have to take the first step of clearing titles,” before anyone can move forward. The properties likely will be placed in the next quarter’s treasurer’s sale, he said.

“We’re not opposed to them clearing titles,” said Mr. Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group. “But that’s not all they want to do. We want a community land trust to have more control over what happens. The thing for me is housing for low-income residents who have been displaced and want to come back, and all they have gotten so far is promises.”

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