Pittsburgh’s housing authority is increasing the time housing voucher holders must stay in the city before they can transfer elsewhere, as part of a sweep of changes to the agency’s voucher programs.

While some of the changes are mandated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], others were added by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP].

“This is the biggest change to our [Housing Choice Voucher] and [Project Based Voucher] regulations since the 1980s,” Amanda Hower, the authority’s senior project manager, told the board on Thursday. “We can start conversations next year on how this will all play out. We need more guidance from HUD on implementation guidelines.” 

The HACP board of directors approved revisions and clarifications on Thursday to the Housing Choice Voucher Program Administrative Plan, which dictates the policies around the rental assistance program sometimes referred to as Section 8. The plan also adopts federal mandates made through the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act program, a federal initiative amending many aspects of multifamily housing, including the way family income is calculated.

One of the main local changes, Hower said after the board meeting, is a new requirement that voucher holders live in the city for at least one year after getting their vouchers. 

“We want to keep people in the city,” she said. “We need to get people leased in the city to retain vouchers. We don’t want an exodus.”

Hower said this would be waived in situations involving domestic violence or when tenants require disability access, as outlined in the administrative plan.

During the board meeting, HACP Executive Director Caster Binion described the the revision of voucher rules as “not complete. It’s almost like a moving target. It’s a cake being baked and we have to keep putting ingredients into it.”

Caster Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, at work at the agency's Downtown offices. (Photo by Eric Jankiewicz/Rtvsrece)
Caster Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, at work at the agency's Downtown offices. (Photo by Eric Jankiewicz/Rtvsrece)

One of the federally mandated rules calls for housing authorities to exclude non-recurring income in their calculations on how much assistance someone can receive.

HACP also altered their policy to set aside 100 tenant-based vouchers for full-time students enrolled in higher education. HACP will have Pittsburgh Scholar House identify people for priority housing with the eventual goal of “self-sufficiency including eventual homeownership after graduating from the program,” according to the plan.

Pittsburgh Scholar House is a nonprofit based on a model developed in Kentucky intended to help single parents complete higher education. The program accepted its first cohort of 100 people last year.

Zero resident feedback

Federal guidelines mandate that the public be given a chance to voice thoughts and concerns about these changes prior to implementation. Mayor Ed Gainey’s Chief of Staff Jake Wheatley, who sits on the housing board, said during Thursday’s meeting that he was concerned that HACP didn’t receive any community input during the process.

“It's difficult for me to accept that there is no opinion from even one of our residents about these significant changes that are about to occur,” Wheatley said. “What department is responsible to ensure our residents understand what’s about to happen?”

Binion responded saying that the authority placed public notices about the changes in newspapers.

“Who’s talking to our neighbors and residents that are saying we have this very important change?” Wheatley asked.

“Other cities had a lot of activists involved in getting the word out but we didn’t have that,” Binion said.

Binion defended the locally made changes as “procedural stuff” and efforts to keep housing benefits in the city. “We have almost 190 people getting vouchers and then going to the county. We need those vouchers for people who live here.”

Correction: Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh Senior Project Manager Amanda Hower’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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...