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Plans for Pittsburgh's affordable housing task force emerge from latest deal with Penguins

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, 1:58 p.m.

Pittsburgh could spend up to $50,000 to determine its subsidized housing needs and figure out how to address them under City Council legislation proposed Wednesday.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle introduced a bill to establish the Affordable Housing Task Force that he would co-chair with Pittsburgh Planning Director Ray Gastil.

Under the legislation, Mayor Bill Peduto would appoint 19 people to the task force to inventory affordable housing units and work to predict needs. They would analyze policies, programs and initiatives, recommend changes and come up with ways to pay for improvements.

“The ultimate goal is to come up with an affordable housing policy for the city of Pittsburgh and ways and means to achieve the goals of the policy as well as how to pay for it,” Lavelle said.

Lena Andrews, planning and development officer for the nonprofit Action Housing Inc., said many people think Pittsburgh has plenty of housing available to rent or own at affordable prices. But she said much of it is dilapidated, outdated and far from public transit stops and schools.

“We definitely found there's a strong need for more high quality affordable housing in the city,” Andrews said.

Peduto agreed to establish the task force as part of a deal to end a legal dispute involving the city, Pittsburgh Penguins and Hill Community Development Corp. regarding the team's plans to develop the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena.

The community development corp. had appealed the planning commission's approval of the team's plans to build a mix of residential, retail and entertainment venues and asked an Allegheny County judge to overturn it.

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said the administration wants to be sure that a recent spike in residential development doesn't price people out of their neighborhoods.

Lavelle said one of the objectives is to define affordable housing, which would include homes for poor and middle-income people. He noted that Peduto wants to grow Pittsburgh's population by 20,000. One way of doing that is by making it easier for college graduates earning entry level salaries to afford housing in the city.

Pittsburgh isn't alone with its affordable housing efforts. New York, Chicago and Seattle, among others, are conducting similar studies.

In Seattle, investors are buying apartment houses and increasing rents by as much as 100 percent. Seattle City Council is considering a “linkage fee” that would require developers to provide affordable housing or pay a fee.

William J. Gatti Jr., president of Trek Development Group, which has built mixed-income and affordable housing in 60 communities in Western Pennsylvania, said developers are building many high-end apartments and condominiums in the city.

“It makes the moderately priced or lower priced even more important than it's been,” he said. “There's an acute shortage of high quality, well managed, well located affordable options.”

Janice White of Stanton Heights, a Realtor and manager of subsidized housing for senior citizens and residents with disabilities, said accurate housing data are sorely needed.

“You are talking about people who can't afford to pay the high rent, and at the same time they're not eligible for any kind of assistance,” she said.

Council is scheduled next week to discuss and take a preliminary vote on Lavelle's legislation.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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