Pittsburgh council to vote within months on housing fund
September 22, 2016 12:08 AM
Rashelle Heggins, center, of Homewood sits on the laps of her friends Fatema Juma, 21, of Greenfield and Kai Pang of North Oakland as she records video during a public hearing Wedensday at the City-County Building, Downtown.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh City Council should vote by year's end on whether to create an affordable housing trust fund, council President Bruce Kraus pledged Wednesday night.
His commitment followed a nearly three-hour council hearing Downtown attended by more than 100 people, including about 50 who spoke. In often-personal terms, nearly every speaker endorsed legislation that would create a housing "opportunity fund" amid a scarcity of affordable units.
"Even down the street from me, they're buying houses and flipping and flopping them — whatever you want to call it," said Cynthia Simpson, 55, of Perry South.
She agreed to a $58,000 purchase price when she bought her house there about 20 years ago, she said. Now that homes on her street are going for more than double that, Ms. Simpson said, "am I going to be forced out, too?"
Speakers from a cross section of community groups and neighborhoods aired similar concerns. Many testified that gentrification — including higher rents, property values and taxes — is making Pittsburgh unaffordable for residents of modest means.
Along those lines, a housing task force has said the city faces a shortage of about 17,000 affordable rental units for those earning below 50 percent of the area median income. The median amounts to roughly $35,600 a year for a family of four.
The trust-fund legislation introduced in July by Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle would attempt to narrow such gaps. Money in the fund would encourage affordable housing through support for foreclosure prevention; rental assistance for those facing homelessness; preservation of deed-restricted affordable units; and loans for home rehabilitation, among other activities.
Council members have yet to decide how they might fund the proposal, which calls for at least $10 million a year in revenue. One discussed option — an increase of one percentage point in the city’s realty transfer tax — didn’t sit well with some at the hearing. They opposed the idea of a higher tax burden that would reach every home-buyer in Pittsburgh.
“We are keenly aware there is a need for affordable housing. We do applaud your willingness to focus on this problem. We don’t believe, however, that increasing the cost of buying a house is the answer to making housing more affordable,” said Charlene Haislip, president-elect of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, addressing council members. “It’s just backward.”
Adam Smeltz: email@example.com, 412-263-2625, @asmeltz.
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