Councilman Wants Arena Site Development to Include Affordable Housing

Oct 6, 2014

Construction of the old Civic Arena in the Lower Hill District displaced 8,000 residents.
Credit Joseph Novak / Flickr

City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents much of the Hill District, wants to make that the history of the area does not repeat itself.

In the mid-1950s, redevelopment of the Hill District and construction of the Civic Arena displaced 8,000 residents, most of whom were black and more than a third of whom ended up in public housing.

Now, that same area is slated for redevelopment by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Plans include housing, mixed-use retail, a hotel and an outdoor plaza.

“When you look at the city of Pittsburgh specifically, and the average income only being about $32,000-$33,000, as we begin to do more development, we could potentially begin pricing out individuals,” Lavelle said. “The idea is that those who are already here should be able to grow and thrive with the city rather than being priced out.”

A bill making its way through Pittsburgh City Council would ensure that developments like the proposed Lower Hill redevelopment include affordable housing units.

The measure refers to Specially Planned Districts, or SP Districts, like the Lower Hill redevelopment or a potential Strip District development. These are projects that take up at least 15 contiguous acres and are wholly owned by one individual developer.

“At its core what it does is put in place a plan for developers to show how they would attempt to achieve 30 percent affordable housing within (specially planned) districts, assuming they’re actually going to be doing housing,” Lavelle said. “The larger attempt is really beginning to discuss the need for more affordable housing within the city of Pittsburgh in a very designed way.”

The legislation originally introduced by Lavelle has been amended so that it does not apply retroactively to SP districts already approved.

The councilman said the old model of concentrating low income people in public housing projects has been shown to be ineffective and lead to negative consequences like increased crime. But he said the newer trend of mixed-income housing has been shown to have the opposite effect.

“If you go to Crawford Square in the Hill District, you’re not going to know who is on a subsidy living there, versus who is paying market rent at maybe $1,300/month,” Lavelle said. “That’s really the ideal mix and what we’ve been looking to achieve in the Hill (District) and across the city.”

The legislation would also require developers to collect data on the racial, ethnic and income level of those living within the proposed SP District, as well as to project the impact on property taxes in the surrounding area.

Council recently gave the bill preliminary approval, and the proposed changes have been sent to the City Planning Department for review. Lavelle said they will hold their own public hearing and then will recommend that Council either adopt the measure with or without changes or reject the measure.

A date for the public hearing has not yet been set.