Pittsburgh’s oldest public housing community will be demolished to make room for a new vision of affordable housing, after the Housing Authority of City of Pittsburgh won a coveted federal grant, according to three Congress members representing Pennsylvania.

The federal government awarded $50 million to Pittsburgh’s housing authority, allowing plans to proceed on completely rebuilding the Hill District’s Bedford Dwellings into a mixed-income community.

“Housing is a human right, and this massive investment will help create more affordable housing in Pittsburgh and improve the conditions of this complex and neighborhood,” said U.S. Sen. John Fetterman.

Sen. Bob Casey said the grant will lead to a place “where residents can live, work, and play in a vibrant and safe environment.”

Housing Authority representatives said Friday that it was premature for them to comment pending HUD's formal announcement of the grant.

The authority applied last year for the grant through Choice Neighborhoods, a program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to replace all 411 units of Bedford Dwellings with more than 800 mixed-income units.

The program is considered highly competitive and is open for all housing authorities, and roughly 40 nationwide applied for this round of Choice Neighborhoods funding.

Children run along the Somers Drive section of Bedford Dwellings as Pittsburgh’s skyline rises in the background on a sunny day, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. At right, power lines run along the street illuminated by the setting sun, at left, framed by trees and bushes and green lawns, the brick buildings of Bedford Dwellings sit before a sidewalk and line of parked cars.
Children run along the Somers Drive section of Bedford Dwellings as Pittsburgh’s skyline rises in the background, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/Rtvsrece)

The authority must build at least 411 units of deeply affordable housing, around 200 of other income-limited units and around 200 at market rates.

Private partner TREK Development expects the project to take eight years to complete, according to earlier reporting.

The Hill Community Development Corporation [Hill CDC] issued a statement to say they were “thrilled” by the news.

“Its redevelopment is one of the City’s neediest areas with regard to housing and economic investment. Bedford Avenue is a critical artery connecting Downtown to eastern abutting neighborhoods,” the Hill CDC wrote.

This award follows the use of Choice Neighborhoods funds to redevelop part of East Liberty and Larimer, and potentially the Allegheny Dwellings community in Fineview.

The plan reflects a larger trend of agencies developing housing through a mixture of private and public means.

In 2016, HACP received a federal grant of $500,000 to work with Bedford Dwellings residents, the Hill Community Development Corporation and other groups on a plan to redevelop a site that dates back to the 1930s.

And in 2018, HACP applied for funding from the Choice Neighborhoods program, which aims to improve both public housing and surrounding communities but the federal government denied the application, which only aimed to redevelop the “lower” section around Somers Drive.

Last year the authority submitted a second application, this time sweeping the whole site into the redevelopment plan.

Groundwork laid for widespread redevelopment

Leading up to Friday's announcement, various city bodies approved peripheral developments around the Bedford site, meant to provide replacement housing before the existing community is razed while also demonstrating to HUD the housing authority’s commitment to the project. Such demonstrations are considered to strengthen the grant application, according to earlier comments made by HACP’s Director of Planning and Development Jung-Wook Kim.

In June, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board approved plans to build 123 mixed-income rental units as townhomes on an empty lot in the Crawford-Roberts area near Bedford, using $57.5 million through various financing streams.

Ninety of those units will involve Project-Based Vouchers, locking in affordability and serving as one-for-one replacement housing for residents living in the current Somers Drive units.

A streetlight shines by the 2507 Bedford Ave in Pittsburgh's Hill District as dusk falls. in the foreground, a darkened field, in the background, a few rooms are lit with the yellow lights of evening in the apartment complex of Bedford Dwellings. In the building in front, a man checks his cellphone beside another man.
An area by 2500 block of Bedford Avenue in Bedford Dwellings. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/Rtvsrece)

Earlier this month the City’s Planning Commission heard plans to redevelop the former Reed Roberts housing site, another portion of the overall redevelopment area. 

During the same meeting it was noted that construction has already started with a 110-unit building ​​at another site, called City’s Edge, in the Bedford footprint.

U.S.Rep. Summer Lee called the grant “a meaningful step towards righting past wrongs of racist urban development decisions, chronic disinvestment, and harmful policies.”

Eric Jankiewicz is Rtvsrece’s economic development reporter and can be reached at ericj@rtvsrece.com or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

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Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for Rtvsrece. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...