Referendum Will Decide Whether Tax Increase Fills Housing Trust Fund, Organizers Say

Jul 28, 2016

City Council will vote whether to increase the realty tax by 1 percent.
Credit Daniel X. O'Neil / Flickr

Pittsburgh voters will decide whether the city should increase its realty transfer tax from 2 percent to 3 percent in order to fill a trust fund that would pay for affordable housing initiatives across the city, according to the organizers of a petition drive.

Officials from the nonprofit group Pittsburgh United said they've gathered "thousands more" signatures than the 7,582 required by Aug. 9 in order to put a referendum on the ballot in the November election.

Celeste Scott, affordable housing organizer at Pittsburgh United, said the total number of signatures gathered will be announced at an event tomorrow afternoon in East Liberty. She said the group hadn't yet submitted the petitions to the city.

Pittsburgh's realty transfer tax -- a one-time levy on property sales -- currently stands at 2 percent, generating roughly $21.5 million for the city in 2016, according to the city's operating budget. A 1 percent increase would therefore reap about $10.75 million for affordable housing projects each year.

An employee of Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Realty Services said the increase to Pittsburgh's realty transfer tax would bump the total transfer tax level from 4 percent to 5 percent for property sales in city limits, including a 1 percent share for the school district and another 1 percent for the state.

“We picked the realty transfer tax because it’s a one-time assessed fee," Scott said. "We’re hoping that the Housing Opportunity Fund would be able to perhaps have some exemptions for first-time homebuyers and, of course, low-income homeowners.”

Officials from Pittsburgh United serve on the city's Affordable Housing Task Force, which recommended to city leaders this spring the creation of a trust fund to pay for new affordable housing projects, renovations to existing homes and rent help for elderly or disadvantaged residents.

The November referendum would be contingent on City Council passing Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle's bill to create the Housing Opportunity Fund. The bill has been held up in committee for a post-agenda discussion that took place last week and a public hearing to be held in Council Chambers at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 21.

Pittsburghers voted in favor of a real estate tax increase in a 2011 ballot question, the revenues of which are diverted to a special fund to benefit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.