Pittsburgh City Council to tweak financing for planned $100 million in Larimer-East Liberty housing

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The conundrum facing Pittsburgh City Council is this: how to support a $100 million housing plan for the Larimer-East Liberty area without busting the city budget.

The project was before council for discussion Wednesday because the city is the co-applicant, along with the city housing authority, for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant. The grant through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would be a key factor in moving the project ahead, but a new element in the program this year is direct involvement by the city instead of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

As the project coordinated by Councilman Ricky Burgess originally was proposed, there would be a $30 million local match, $16.5 million directly from the city. Mr. Burgess also is chairman of the housing authority board and coordinated a series of community meetings to develop the project.

The project calls for building 340 to 350 units of mixed-income housing centered along Larimer Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard and neighboring streets along the Larimer-East Liberty border.

Others on council expressed strong support for the project but questioned the source of local funding -- 15 percent of the city's Community Development Block Grant money and a portion of the $7.9 million Pittsburgh Development Fund that becomes available in 2015. Using the CDBG money would mean reducing money for projects in each council district by 15 percent, something several members weren't anxious to do.

"If we're going to do this, we're going to have to find where this $30 million is going to come from," said Councilman Bill Peduto, Democratic nominee for mayor.

"Nobody's against this project. But we have to get more money from the developer and the housing authority so the city doesn't have to put in so much."

Before Wednesday's meeting, the housing authority increased its share of funding from $12 million to $16 million. The lion's share of the remaining $40 million is coming from developer McCormack Baron Salazar, who is considered key to the application because the firm has won two other Choice Neighborhoods programs across the country.

Council President Darlene Harris expressed frustration with the concern of some of her colleagues, including Councilman Bruce Kraus, who worried about the city being on the hook for a larger share of the cost if other government money is cut later.

"It just seems like any time something comes up in a poor neighborhood, we're concerned where the money is coming from. Nobody wants to help them," Ms. Harris. "If we want Larimer to get this project ... this council will come up with a way to get the money."

After nearly two hours of discussion, council decided to table initial action on the grant application for one week while it works out the local funding. The project is on a tight schedule because the application deadline is in early September and council will go on its summer recess after Aug. 5.

Mr. Burgess said he wasn't surprised council members had so many questions about the project because it's the first time the city has been involved with this type of funding. In the past, projects either were funded through the housing authority or Urban Redevelopment Authority.

He said he remains confident council will support the project.

"I believe Mr. Peduto that we will find a way to fund this project over the next week," he said. "I think we will find a way to compromise and reach an agreement to move this project forward."

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Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470. First Published July 24, 2013 3:30 PM


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