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RANDALL TAYLOR

Before the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh’s Board even took their seats, Randall Taylor, a former resident of the now-demolished Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty, was excited to take his.

“We’re going to make history today—you watch,” he said.

A full room applauded moments later as the board unanimously recommended the first $10-million allocation plan for the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund that will support creating and maintaining affordable housing throughout the city.

Jessica Smith Perry, director of the fund, told the board during the Sept. 13 meeting that the fund’s 17-member advisory board had put the allocation plan together after two months of public hearings, scheduled meetings and more than 50 interviews with stakeholders representing community development, advocacy, home repair, homeless prevention, banking, and government sectors.

“I’m excited that we’ve been able to get here. We’ll really be able to help our neighbors,” she said. “We have tons of people who need affordable housing and tons of vacant buildings. So, I thank Councilman (R. Daniel) Lavelle for his leadership on this and I encourage you all to vote yes.”

Per the legislation Councilman Lavelle shepherded through city council to create the fund, the plan allocates money based on need, with half the funds going to support families who make less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income, 25 percent going to households below 50 percent AMI, and 25 percent going to those below 80 percent AMI.

The fund will do so via five broad program areas: Homeless Rental Assistance; Rental Gap Financing; Owner-Occupied Rehab; Down Payment Assistance; and For-Sale Acquisition/Rehab/ Resale.

Perry said the owner-occupied program was developed when the advisory board learned via its community meetings that there is a substantial population that is living in inherited property that they are unable to maintain due to their income.

“In many cases they haven’t transferred the titles, so they are not eligible for loans because—on paper—they aren’t listed as the owners,” she said. “Others are elderly, poor and cannot make needed repairs themselves.”

With the board’s vote, the allocation plan now goes back to city council for final approval.

Councilman Lavelle, who not only pushed legislation creating and funding the Housing Opportunity Fund via an increase in the city’s real estate transfer tax, but also created the task forces that identified the severity of the affordable housing need—an estimated 17,000-unit shortfall—thanked everyone for their work and support.

“I’m glad we’re here. And I will do everything I can to get this through council as fast as possible,” he said.

Operation Better Block Executive Director Jerome Jackson served on the advisory board that formulated the allocation plan. He said this vote was a big first step, and he hopes city council acts quickly.

“I’m hoping it’s on the next agenda,” Jackson said. “While it’s unlikely some of the construction-type pieces could get started at this time of year, certainly some of the direct financial support can still be allocated before the end of the year.”

 

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