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                                                                                     Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette 
A early morning view of the Golden Triangle from the roof of the U.S. Steel Tower.

By Amy Schaarsmith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Affordable housing advocates who believe Pittsburgh’s development policies are pushing poor families — and especially poor black families — out of the city won a small victory Tuesday with support from the Pittsburgh Planning Commission.

Commission members voted unanimously to recommend passage by Pittsburgh City Council of a requirement that housing developers using public money or building on public land make “commercially reasonable efforts” to ensure that 30 percent of those units are “affordable.”

The legislation sponsored by Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle of District 6, which does not define “commercially reasonable” or “affordable,” is meant to encourage the construction of more housing for poor and working-class people as Pittsburgh redevelops its neighborhoods, said commissioner Paul Gitnik.

“I feel this is the first step in addressing affordable housing,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s the final step. ... How we treat the least of us in society is so important.”

Several developers expressed opposition to the proposal, saying the goal of building 30 percent of housing developments as affordable units was neither achievable nor realistic, would amount to an unfunded government mandate, was vague and unenforceable, and would have a chilling effect on developers’ interest in building so-called “specially planned districts” using public funds.

If approved, the legislation would apply to all such projects in the future — including developments around the Consol Energy Center in the lower Hill District — but not to the specially planned districts such as Station Square and Bakery Square that already have been developed.

Mr. Lavelle reassured commissioners that the legislation would not mandate a certain percentage of affordable housing units but, rather, would establish a goal that developers should have to meet unless they could convince city officials otherwise.

In developments such as the Consol redevelopment site, he said, a negotiated agreement that requires the developer to build 20 percent of the housing stock as affordable units would remain the minimum requirement.

And although “affordable” was not defined, affordable-housing advocates, Mr. Lavelle and planning commission members generally agreed it meant housing that costs no more than 30 percent of income for households at or below 50 percent of median income.

Median black income in Pittsburgh is $22,000, which is 33 percent of median income, according to the Hill District Consensus Group. Affordable rent for the average black household is $550 per month, effectively excluding black residents from living in the lower Hill District or in areas near new, upscale developments, according to the group.

And although many affordable-housing advocates applauded the commission’s decision, Carl Redwood, the Hill District group’s chairman, said the commissioners’ decision was simply “passing the buck.” The city, he said, needs an inclusive housing policy and a way to carry it out.

“Right now, the policy of the city is getting rid of black people and poor people and to go looking for this new Pittsburgh they’re trying to build,” he said.

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Date Published: 
Wednesday, December 17, 2014 | 412-765-1820 |

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA