IN THE LAST WEEK
Though the Pittsburgh area is known for modest housing prices compared to other large cities, the subject of affordable housing has been an increasing topic of discussion. Last week was a good example.
The Penguins franchise supplemented its solid on-ice performance (winning an opening-round playoff series in pursuit of a second straight Stanley Cup) with longawaited announcement of some concrete housing plans for the former Civic Arena site. In the first phase of a 1,000-unit project, the Pens intend to start constructing 255 of those in early 2018, with 20 percent of the apartments to be allocated to households earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income.
Low-income housing tax credits are to assist in financing a project that represents a massive rebuild of the Lower Hill District, which in large part was decimated in the mid-20th century to make way for the Civic Arena. Now the pendulum is swinging back, with the hockey team and St. Louis-based developer McCormack Baron Salazar planning the mixed-income housing, with retail and entertainment development possible nearby.
The rest of the Hill District could see its own rebirth. The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has interest in buying 220 properties in the Middle Hill — most of them vacant lots — to prepare them for redevelopment. Hill District community leaders have indicated that before the URA proceeds, however, they want to be sure the city creates the necessary balance of affordable-rate housing to benefit residents who have long lived in the Hill.
Such concerns have become a major issue during the recent revitalization of East Liberty, where concerns arose that longtime residents were being priced out of the neighborhood. The affordable housing issue has been part of a battle between the Peduto administration and the developer of the Penn Plaza apartment site, which has been accused of neglecting the needs of low-income residents. It was revealed last week that the city has made offers to buy Penn Plaza, which developer LG Realty Advisors rejected. The developer is now in a court fight with the city.
Complicating the goal of promoting affordable housing is the lack of actual money in a trust fund approved by City Council in December for that purpose. The fund was supposed to have $10 million, but no specific source of that money was identified at the outset. Several possibilities have been discussed so far without advancing, including an increase in the city’s realty transfer tax or an outlay by the URA.
Until something is decided, it’s going to be hard for the city to meet goals like helping families with down payments and rehab projects or providing funds that prevent foreclosures.
One prominent property owner that’s sorely short on funds is the grand-looking, iconic Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland. It is facing a sheriff’s sale of its liquor license, furniture and other items throughout the building Tuesday to cover its debts.