Hill District groups voice concerns over development of former arena site

Many African-Americans lost their homes in the lower Hill District when the Civic Arena was built more than 50 years ago.

Now some Hill groups fear that African-Americans will be priced out of the new residential development planned for the same site.

At a city zoning board of adjustment meeting Thursday, they called on the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team to conduct a fair housing market study to determine the racial composition of the 1,192-unit development it is planning.

“We are concerned that the Penguins’ proposed housing prices will effectively exclude the vast majority of African-American households in Pittsburgh from living in the redeveloped lower Hill District,” said Carl Redwood, board chair of the Hill District Consensus Group.

About two dozen Hill residents attended the zoning board meeting at which the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority gave an update on the status of the lower Hill development and the parking on the 28-acre tract.

The report was required as part of the variances granted two years ago that allowed the Penguins to use the site for parking until development takes hold.

Affordable housing has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the negotiations between Hill leaders and the Penguins on an agreement related to the development of housing, offices and retail on the property, which is owned by the SEA and the city Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Community leaders have been pressing the Penguins to make 30 percent of the units available to people who make 30 to 80 percent of the area median income. The team has balked at that, so far refusing to make more than 20 percent of the housing available to those earning 80 percent of the area median.

Mr. Redwood said a 2010 market analysis done by the Penguins assumed that only people earning at least $52,000 a year would rent or purchase housing in the lower Hill.

Only 20 percent of the African-Americans in Pittsburgh earn that much or more, he said.

The fair housing marketing study, he argued, would be the best way to determine whether the development plans “will perpetuate racial segregation or foster racial inclusion.”

Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corp., said residents also want to see benefits related to the arena redevelopment extended to other parts of the Hill.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Penguins said, “We continue to work with the city, the county, the SEA, the URA and the community to move this project forward as quickly as possible. Our goal is to have a development project on the former Civic Arena site that will benefit the entire region, including the community.”

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published June 12, 2014 12:16 PM

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