Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office says funding dwindling for URA projects | TribLIVE.com
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Bob Bauder

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority is facing a tough financial future with less money coming in from the city and federal government each year for such funding priorities as affordable housing and small business development, city officials said Monday.

Under Mayor Bill Peduto’s $608 million proposed budget for 2020, the URA would get about 25% of the $24 million it requested for initiatives traditionally financed by the city and federal Community Development Block Grant program. Deputy Director Diamonte Walker said during a budget hearing that it won’t mean an elimination of programming, but funding cuts are likely.

“If they don’t adjust this at all that means that we have to make some really tough and hard decisions and that it’s going to require creativity, ingenuity and it’s going to require some level of sacrifice,” she said. “We’ll try to do as much as we can do with the resources that we have.”

The URA proposed the $24 million for programs including micro loans for small businesses, funding for neighborhood initiatives, care of vacant properties and additional money for affordable housing. The city budget provides $6.5 million for the URA in 2020, including about $4 million extra for housing.

The URA was seeking $6.3 million. Walker said the money is necessary for affordable housing initiatives that existed before the city created the trust fund.

Pittsburgh each year typically awards the URA less than it is seeking. In 2019, the URA sought around $18 million and received about $8.8 million, Walker said.

“The reality is the URA’s business model is not sustainable,” said Dan Gilman, Peduto’s chief of staff. “You cannot rely on CDBG as your main source of funding. It has been declining every year.”

He said the administration would work with Greg Flisram, hired last month as URA executive director, on a new funding model for the organization.

Pittsburgh expects to receive $13.5 million in CDBG funds next year. That’s down from $21 million it was receiving 20 years ago.

Gilman said surplus money left over each year that typically helped the URA also is dwindling as the city spends more on such things as employee salaries and paving.

He noted that the city earmarks $10 million each year for an affordable housing trust fund administered by the URA.

Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Task Force has estimated that the city has a shortage of more than 17,000 homes necessary for low-income residents.

“This is not about anybody defunding the URA,” Walker said. “The City Council and the Mayor’s Office are in a very tough position. There are just not enough dollars to do the things that we deeply care about.”

Peduto said the city is in the process of hiring a chief economic development officer at a salary of $112,084.

“We need somebody who can work to coordinate the efforts of the planning department, with the housing authority, with the URA, and we need somebody who can assist in the transformation of the URA to focus more heavily on housing and small business development,” he said.

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