The Housing Opportunity Fund Is Here, But Council Hasn't Figured Out How To Fund It

Dec 15, 2016

A bill to create a Housing Opportunity Fund sits among a stack of bills Wednesday before City Council gathered for debate.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to the creation of a “Housing Opportunity Fund,” but didn’t create a revenue stream for it.

The goal of the fund is to preserve and create affordable housing in the city. Bill sponsor councilman Daniel Lavelle originally intended for it to be supported by $10 million in unused Tax Increment Financing allocations. He pulled the funding mechanism at the last minute in an effort to gain council support.

Lavelle said he’ll work to find a source of revenue as soon as the bill gets final approval.

“There are other revenue streams that we could potentially get from the state such as what Philadelphia did when they passed a tax on soda,” Lavelle said.  Maybe even a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes.)”

Lavelle has also not ruled out grants and donations from foundations and banks or revenues from the reality transfer tax.

“I don’t feel comfortable voting for something without knowing where that funding is coming from,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith during debate Wednesday. “I want to know what the budgetary impact is.”

Kail-Smith eventually abstained from voting on the creation of the fund.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and a 17-member advisory board would manage the wide-ranging effort.

“A landlord who needs assistance to fix up their property and be able to keep rents affordable would potentially be eligible,” Lavelle said. “The home owner who is looking to purchase their first new home and may need some assistance with down payment or closing costs assistance, they would also be eligible.”

The various programs would have their own income rules. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak voted for the bill but not before voicing her own concerns. She said she is worried that the city is more focused on buildings than people.   

“When we look at the funding piece of it, I hope that we look at it holistically,” Rudiak said.

Rudiak said she hopes city employees will not be ineligible to take advantage of the fund based on their income level.

The bill comes up for a final vote Tuesday.