Housing Opportunity Fund Is Almost A Year Old, And Council Is Still Figuring Out How To Fund It

Nov 15, 2017

Pittsburgh City Council is still searching for a way to pay for a fund it established last December to expand the supply of affordable housing for low and moderate-income residents.

Council members haven’t been able to agree on a funding source, but at a meeting Wednesday, a group of activists urged them to find a solution by the end of the year.

Councilmember Daniel Lavelle, a primary champion of the Housing Opportunity Fund, shared the activists’ frustration.

“It’s necessary that we do this by the end of the year,” he said. “We should have already done this a year ago,” he said.

The fund, which was designed as a dedicated funding mechanism that would be insulated from the uncertainty of the annual budgeting process, requires $10 million annually.

 

One proposal would raise the necessary revenue with a 1 percent increase to the realty transfer tax, which applies to real estate sales, but it is currently one vote short of approval. Councilmembers Ricky Burgess, Dan Gilman, Bruce Kraus and Lavelle support the tax increase, but others have expressed concern that it would discourage homebuying within the city.

Lavelle said he's working with those council members to find an alternative they can accept.

“There’s work to get to a compromise where maybe we don’t do a full 1 percent increase, but that you do some level of increase and find the rest of the money within our budget,” Lavelle said.

Lavelle declined to specify where that money might come from.

 

Another idea that’s been floated allows certain tax credits to expire and devotes the resulting new revenue to the housing fund. The tax credits under consideration include the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Despite limited options, Lavelle said he’s optimistic that he and his colleagues will reach a compromise.

“I think there’s general consensus that we need to do this. I think everyone agrees to that,” he said. “How we cobble together all the funding, there isn’t consensus on it yet because various members are looking at various sources of funding – so where can we pull money from?”

Lavelle expects the council to vote on a funding measure by the end of the year.