Attempts to preserve and create new affordable housing – both rental and owner-occupied – will receive a major boost from Pittsburgh’s economic development arm, in partnership with organizations including the YMCA and other nonprofits.

During the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] board’s first in-person board meeting since the beginning of the pandemic, board members unanimously approved Housing Preservation Program loans for five separate initiatives aimed at preserving affordable housing through extensive renovations of apartment complexes. The program is backed by the Housing Opportunity Fund, which was created in 2017 after an affordable housing task force recommended its creation. The city commits $10 million a year for the next 12 years to address what the task force characterized as an affordable housing crisis, to which the URA added federal American Rescue Plan funds. 

Allegheny YMCA: Renovation will leave 89 units

“With your support today the Allegheny Y will be able to provide a dignified home for more than 89 individuals for decades to come,” Amy Kienle, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, told the URA board. “It’s an investment in generations of individuals and a commitment to a livable city.”

Kienle said that the space has and continues to serve as “an important third space for several generations of Pittsburghers” but that it needed “ a lot of love on the inside.”

The URA approved a preservation loan not to exceed $1.5 million that will be used to renovate the single room occupancy units in the YMCA’s nearly 100-year-old Northside location, reducing the 120 units to 89 units. As with all the projects that the board approved Thursday, the overall project cost for the Y’s Northside location is much higher than the loan amount, with other sources of funding covering the total estimated cost of $22.5 million. The units will be under two separate affordability requirements. Rent restrictions on 30 units will be set at 50% of the area median income [AMI], with 59 units capped at 80% of AMI for 40 years.

Hazelwood: Apartment building to be improved

The URA board also approved a loan for a nine-unit apartment building in Hazelwood that Rising Tide Partners, a nonprofit, bought with the intent to help the community realize the goal, expressed in the Greater Hazelwood Plan, to gain community control of the neighborhood’s larger apartment buildings in hopes of preserving affordable housing.

“This is a very important example of how we have so many families in this city in danger of displacement because of absentee landlords,” said Kendall Pelling, executive director of the nonprofit.

Pelling’s organization bought the property in 2022 for $379,000. Pelling said that the property was poorly managed and undercapitalized for decades causing roof and plumbing leaks and significant masonry damage. A capital needs assessment was conducted and found that many features of the building are in poor condition

“When we first came in we saw families in units with leaking roofs, bricks about to fall off potentially onto somebody, leaking pipes, heat exchangers broken in old furnaces that could be potential carbon monoxide poisoning,” Pelling said. The total development cost for these renovations is just over $2.5 million. The URA is lending $450,000. 

Central Northside: Widow’s Home to be preserved

Among the other projects the board approved was a loan to renovate an apartment complex in the Central Northside known as the Allegheny Widow’s Home that was originally built in the late 1800s for widows, elderly women and women with low incomes. With nine one-bedroom units and 15 two-bedroom townhouses, the site attracted ACTION Housing and the nonprofit bought the complex in 2022.

The affordability mandates on the complex call for 13 units with rents capped at 50% of AMI and 11 units at 60% of AMI, for 40 years.

“We house some of the most vulnerable residents and, like everything, it’s aging so I’m so thankful for these preservation funds to continue to operate our buildings and give our residents the quality of life they need,” said Lena Andrews, ACTION Housing’s vice president of real estate development. “We don’t want to just provide housing, we want to provide quality housing that they’ll be proud of.”

Andrews said that the Widows Home was “such an awesome example of a preservation project.”

She recalled that at the time of the purchase in 2022, the complex’s tax-credit-based affordability mandate was expiring.

“When I saw it, I said, ‘I have to buy this,’” she said. “Can you imagine if a market rate developer bought this? That’s it, affordability would be gone.”

She said that the renovations will help prepare the building to pass inspections to become a site for project based voucher tenants.

The board also approved a $450,000 loan to ACTION Housing for the rehabilitation of 10 affordable rental units in Garfield and Highland Park. At an estimated cost of nearly $2.5 million, half of the units will be reserved for people making no more than 30% of AMI and the rest at 50% of AMI.

“I felt like it’s worth reflecting on the magnitude of what will be accomplished with these sets of projects,” said Sam Williamson, a member of the URA board. “It takes skill and tenacity to create a housing preservation program and then make sure it translates to specific projects. It’s incredible.”

He continued, “That’s what the president talks about when he talks about building from bottom up. This is very much Bidenomics here.”

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...