City Council Weird, Tense and Tentative over Affordable Housing as Activists Rage

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-3-13-58-pmThe public got to speak at city hallon Wednesday evening, before the cameras, to tell City Council what they thought of the proposed “Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund”.

It would be a$10 million annual kitty, managed by the City, andstructured to make investments furthering thecause of affordable housing for low-income people.

The overwhelming majority of the 100 or so speakers were wholly for it, and passionately — aside from a few real estate agents.

“Why is the city subsidizing market-rate housing?”

“I’m witnessing the 4th re-gentrification of the Lower Hill.”

“They’re being pushed to neighborhoods with less food, less transit…”

“Pittsburgh’s population is now less than it was in 2010.”

“Pittsburgh was cute before all the plastic surgery — now, it’s getting ugly.”


Yet when Council Membersoffered closing thoughts after the last of 50+ speakers, it became clear not just that the Real Estate Transfer tax may be off the table to fund it –but that a number of other changesare going to beoffered.

And that thepressures are getting irritating.

“This fund is important, needed,” warnedCouncilor Natalia Rudiak, “but my residents weren’t here.”

She upbraided communityorganizersfor not reaching out to her southern district, especially its “burgeoning refugee and immigrant populations.”That caneasilybe interpretedas a slight against her frequent ally, Pittsburgh United, which hadbeen poised to canvass for an aborted ballot measure for funding.

“This is a progressive Council” insisted Rudiak,for some reason caustically.

Councilor Daniel Lavelle, with poker-face in effect, pointed outthat “a bill to increase the RET tax is not before the Council.”They were only discussing the authorization and structureof the fund.

Yet even still:”A number of amendments [possible changes] are coming.”

The Affordable Housing fund nowreflectsrecommendations by Lavelle’s ownAffordable Housing Task Force, which was set up and supported by Mayor Bill Peduto to assess and help satisfy various andspecific demandsfor acitywidepolicy to provide forhousing affordability.

Dedicated funding for such low-income housing trust funds as these arerecognized “best practices” by a number of progressivepolicy experts.Though”a drop in the bucket” alone, they can play a role in a larger strategy while housing some families.

Without the real estate tax as a funding stream, many wonder where the money will come from.

Councilor Deb Gross was concerned about the City’s commitment to that largerstrategy.

“We have one vote for Inclusionary Zoning on this Council,” she declared–referring toherself, and to another recognized best practice in affordable housing, a one-time Peduto policy.

Gross’sdistrict surrounding Lawrenceville isalready receiving the brunt end ofskyrocketing property values, and some forms of gentrification.

“It’s not all about new housing,” Gross warned, “Because that’s how to house the least amount of people for the most amount of money.”

Under the present legislation, halfof the money would be set aside for work providing housing affordability to people makingless than 30% of the regional median income. Half of the restwould go for those making up to50% of the regional median, and the remaining portionfor homeownership opportunities for those making up to 80% regional median.

Additionally,a larger “Advisory Board” made up partially ofrepresentatives from low-income communities and advocacy groups would get to pre-screen any investments by the Governing Board, which is dominated by city leaders.

Rumor has it the Peduto administration would like to increase theflexibility with whichthe fund can be used, by watering down some of those safeguards.

Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith said she was “concerned” about the real estate tax,curious why thiscan’t be addressed byURA, HCAP, or with the County, and nervous overwho would really benefit from the fund. “Does it benefit the people,” she asked, “not East End developers and organizations?”

Council President Bruce Kraus was more peevish than usual, his graces perfunctory. Twice the Sergeant at Arms was dispatched to quell out-of-turn audience interjection.

Councilor Darlene Harris seemed merry enough on her way in, chatting over her Monday special meeting on flooding issues, but made limitedremarks and did not stay the duration. The othermembers were absent.

3 thoughts on “City Council Weird, Tense and Tentative over Affordable Housing as Activists Rage

  1. Anon

    What a joke. Declining population. Softening economy. One of, if not the most, affordable housing market of any major City. And we are going to take more money from City residents so that well connected developers can build new housing units and make millions of dollars?

    1. Bram ReichbaumBram Reichbaum Post author

      My impression is that housing that is affordable tends to be far from bus lines and commercial necessities, and is often severely aged (pre-1940’s) or near dilapidated.

      Some new roofs, windows, insulation, systems and appliances in the right areas would probably keep a lot of families around at relatively little cost, without making anybody too rich.

      1. anon

        My take is that Pgh is in trouble with investment. Big slow down. Someone needs a slush fund to keep the dollars flowing to donors, developers, unions, etc.

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