As part of Develop PGH, PublicSource will report here about notable actions and conversations from the monthly meetings of the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA].

From the May 14, 2020 board meeting

After the May 14 meeting of the Urban Redevelopment Authority board, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they are halting their years-long effort to redevelop the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District, following a board decision to delay an approval vote by two weeks. Read the full story here.

From the April 16, 2020 board meeting: URA urges banks to step up in coronavirus crisis as state and federal funds fall short

The needs of Pittsburgh’s pandemic-sickened economy have outstripped the government’s cures, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority officials, who told that agency’s board that they’re casting about for more money to lend to struggling businesses.

The URA has assembled $3.1 million to make emergency loans to city businesses. But with $3.8 million in applications, the program is “now oversubscribed, and we are in a place where we may have to close the fund” unless new money comes in, said URA Executive Director Greg Flisram, at the board’s Thursday meeting.

The URA emergency loans, which top out at $15,000, are only meant to keep businesses afloat until aid from other sources comes through, Flisram said. But several key state and federal programs to help businesses through the crisis appear to be tapped out, according to Tom Link, director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, and Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank have contributed to the URA’s emergency loan fund. Board members urged more potential funders to step up.

“We’ve got some Pittsburgh-based financial institutions that we need to see on this chart next month,” said Sam Williamson, chair of the URA board, in a meeting held via Zoom. He acknowledged that the loans are “high-risk,” but added that it’s “the right thing to do to try to keep small businesses afloat and people employed.”

Urban Redevelopment Authority board Chair Sam Williamson speaks to the board via Zoom during the panel's April 16, 2020 meeting, in a screenshot.
Urban Redevelopment Authority board Chair Sam Williamson speaks to the board via Zoom during the panel’s April 16, 2020 meeting, in a screenshot.
Urban Redevelopment Authority board Chair Sam Williamson speaks to the board via Zoom during the panel’s April 16, 2020 meeting, in a screenshot.

The URA’s other major response to the new coronavirus crisis —  an expanded program to help people to address housing-related costs — has allocated $156,000 to 52 households. Another 231 applications are in the queue, URA staff said.

The URA is taking other measures, including launching an effort to guide businesses that want to learn to do more commerce online. The authority has issued a request for qualifications from firms that might guide other businesses on e-commerce.

Despite the crisis, a few development deals roll on. The URA board approved:

  • $1.25 million in loans to assist ACTION-Housing’s $23.2 million plan to convert the former Squirrel Hill Theater site into the Flats on Forward, with 43 affordable apartments, around ¼ of them geared toward people with disabilities
  • $1 million in loans toward the $18.2 million North Negley Residences project, which aims to build 45 apartments — including 38 priced for households of modest income — on the Garfield site of the former B’Nai Israel Synagogue
  • $350,000 in new financing for the Sixth Ward Flats, a $15.9 million effort to build 35 affordable apartments in Lower Lawrenceville. The board had previously approved $1.2 million for the project.

The board also heard an update on the Penguins’ bid to redevelop the former Civic Arena site.

Penguins Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kevin Acklin told the board that the hockey team is working with city officials on a planned 400-foot tower in the Lower Hill District, anchored by FNB Bank. The URA board is expected to vote on aspects of the Penguins’ plans next month. If the team can secure the needed city approvals, it plans to complete the financial closing on the publicly-owned land in October, start construction in November and start moving tenants in by late 2022 or early 2023.

A rendering showing the planned location of a 400-foot tower to be developed by the Penguins organization in the Lower Hill District, with FNB Bank as the proposed anchor tenant. Penguins leadership presented this rendering, captured in a screenshot, to the Urban Redevelopment Authority board at its April 16, 2020 meeting.
A rendering showing the planned location of a 400-foot tower to be developed by the Penguins organization in the Lower Hill District, with FNB Bank as the proposed anchor tenant. Penguins leadership presented this rendering, captured in a screenshot, to the Urban Redevelopment Authority board at its April 16, 2020 meeting.

The board also discussed a just-released report on the URA’s operations and direction, and Williamson pledged that when public gatherings are safe again, the authority will hold “a set of community meetings, all around the city and in each of the council districts” on the 74-year-old agency’s evolution.

“There will be a large role for us to play,” he told the board, “on the other side of this public health crisis as we rebuild together.”

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at or on Twitter @richelord.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

From the March 19, 2020 board meeting: Urban Redevelopment Authority to offer $1.3 million in COVID-19 aid

Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority board on March 19 responded to the coronavirus crisis with a bevy of measures, while continuing to finance affordable for-sale housing and inching forward on a proposed mega-development along the Ohio River.

“Welcome to the world of public authority board meetings in the era of COVID-19,” said board Chairman Sam Williamson as he launched the meeting by teleconference with the board members participating from their homes or offices while about 85 people listened in remotely. He noted the “absolutely unprecedented and scary times we’re living in today. … It’s a hard moment for the entire world.”

The URA’s moves to address the economic dislocation caused by the novel coronavirus and the shutdown of large segments of the economy:

  • The board approved a new program — part of the Housing Opportunity Fund backed by Pittsburgh’s deed transfer tax — to help households struggling to cover housing expenses due to the COVID-19 crisis. The board voted to allocate $300,000 to the new program to be administered by the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, which would provide as much as $3,000 each to such households, modeled on the existing Housing Stabilization Program. “It’s only $300,000, so it doesn’t stretch very far,” said URA Executive Director Greg Flisram, who characterized it as “seed money” to help some 100 families, to be followed by more aid.
  • Flisram said the agency is deferring all loan repayments due to the URA by small businesses for the month of April.
  • Flisram also said he identified $1 million for small business owners. On Wednesday, the URA announced that it was offering its existing small business borrowers emergency no-interest loans of as much as $15,000 and freeing up funds to provide as many as 30 new small business borrowers with that same loan product.
  • URA staff announced that the federal government had just approved Pennsylvania’s request for an Economic Injury Declaration, which should allow businesses in the state to apply for Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Williamson called the measures “the first of many similar actions to come, as we navigate this crisis, not only from a public health standpoint, but also as it impacts our economy.”

The board also voted to back three affordable housing developments that have been in the works for some time.

Two of the Manchester buildings slated for renovation in a $2.7 million project, for which the Urban Redevelopment Authority board approved $1.8 million in loans and grants on March 19, 2020. The photos were submitted by the URA to the Housing Opportunity Fund Advisory Board on March 5.
Two of the Manchester buildings slated for renovation in a $2.7 million project, for which the Urban Redevelopment Authority board approved $1.8 million in loans and grants on March 19, 2020. (Photos submitted by the URA to the Housing Opportunity Fund Advisory Board)

The URA will put $1.8 million in loans and grants into the rehabilitation of nine long-vacant houses on Manchester’s Warlo, Lake and Rush streets. The project by the Manchester Citizens Corp. and October Development is expected to cost $2.7 million and to result in three homes that will sell for $115,000 each, and six that will sell for $180,000 each. The project taps the Housing Opportunity Fund’s For-Sale Development Program, which has, until now, been slow to generate owner-occupied homes. “It will be a really fantastic project once it’s complete,” said Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, a URA board member.

The board also added $365,000 to an existing $1.5 million loan and grant package to back the construction of eight homes and rehabilitation of 18 homes in East Liberty, Larimer and Garfield.  East Liberty Development Inc. is building the homes at a total cost of $8 million, and 18 of them will be slated for sale to low- and moderate-income households.

On the rental housing side, the board approved $1.75 million in loans and grants to the New Granada Square project, which will put 40 affordable apartments geared toward artists, plus a restaurant and a few stores, on Centre Avenue near Devilliers Street. That project, by the Hill Community Development Corporation and CHN Housing Partners, is expected to cost $16 million, funded largely through $11.5 million in low-income housing tax credits.

The board dipped a toe into a massive $528 million proposal led by Millcraft Investments to build a 15-acre mixed-use complex in Chateau, north of the Rivers Casino. The board agreed to enter into an agreement that allows Millcraft’s affiliate to buy five lots, totaling 5.6 acres, in Chateau from the URA for $1.5 million.

Called Esplanade, the development is expected to include 123 condominiums, 246 apartments, a 199-room hotel, a 240,000-square-foot office tower, a marina, restaurants, some 900 parking spaces in two garages, a Ferris wheel and potentially a lagoon. Williamson said he was impressed that the developer was committing to make 20% of the apartments affordable to low-income renters. But, he added, the board supports what he called further “demands of community residents” for affordable housing, workforce development aspects and connections between Manchester and Chateau as part of the development.

“We have started having conversations with Millcraft,” said Lavelle, adding that the developers will eventually be asking for a “significant amount of public subsidy. … We’ll absolutely have community-wide conversations.”

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at or on Twitter @richelord.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

From Feb. 13, 2020: URA board approves negotiations for Hill District development

A city that has long struggled to get abandoned property back into use is trying a new model in the Hill District. In the short run, it could put 55 parcels along Centre Avenue back into private hands, create or enhance several businesses and add affordable housing and amenities to the neighborhood.


“I think this could become a citywide model,” Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] Deputy Director Diamonte Walker said Thursday, minutes after the agency’s board approved negotiations with six would-be developers and entrepreneurs. “I think this could become a nationwide model for how you do equitable development with patient parcels,” she said, meaning land that isn’t in high demand.

The model: Offer abandoned property, in bulk, to developers without the cumbersome processes — including detailed proposals with financial plans and architects’ renderings — that often accompany such transactions. Get community input. Give some coaching and financial aid to applicants who haven’t done property deals before.

All six of the would-be developers described their hopes to the URA board at its monthly meeting on Thursday. The board then voted to authorize exclusive negotiations between the agency and the six. 

In the Hill, this process started in early 2018. Pushed by URA board member R. Daniel Lavelle, a city councilman representing the Hill, the agency offered around 170 parcels for development.

Eleven people or businesses submitted their qualifications and plans, and after getting feedback at a six-hour neighborhood meeting in November, the URA picked six.

They are:

  • Amani Christian Community Development, which wants to build an 18,000-square-foot mixed-use building with 12 affordable apartments, along with stores on the first floor;
  • MOKA Art Gallery, which intends to create green space for community music and art;
  • Salon XO, which plans to turn an abandoned, vine-drowned building into an upscale salon, spa and wellness center with six affordable apartments upstairs;
  • Studio Volcy, which proposes Rhythm Square, to include gallery space, micro-restaurants, live-work space, and affordable housing;
  • The Sankofa Group, which wants to develop eight to 12 units of mixed-income housing;
  • Thomas Boyd, of Big Tom’s Barber Shop, who plans to buy the former Hamm’s Barber Shop building and move in there, adding two affordable apartments upstairs.

“We’ve been there for 15 years and the Centre Avenue corridor has been going through some rough times,” Boyd said. “We’re ready. We’re ready for redevelopment. … I’ve got the confidence that we’re going to do it.”

“This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that the URA has had all minority respondents, and minority-and-women-owned respondents” to a proposal, Lavelle said. “If you want to address the issues brought up in the gender equity report last year, that everyone went crazy about, if you want to really address that in any real way, you do this. You do this sort of development.”

Lavelle was referencing a report entitled Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race, by University of Pittsburgh sociologists working with the city’s Gender Equity Commission. It documented many disparities between the lives of Black and white Pittsburghers, including lower earnings and life expectancies for African Americans.

He added that the approach of including and enabling new, or small, minority-owned businesses doesn’t have to stop with the URA or city government.

“If our educational institutions, if our philanthropic organizations, if our foundations, if our corporate structure in this city, the Allegheny Conference all the way down, if they decided to also take this approach, then we’d really have a city that’s on the move,” he said.

Now the six would-be developers get six months to do their due diligence, and to negotiate land sales and financial packages with the URA, Walker said. Those arrangements will all need URA board approval. Meanwhile, the URA will soon invite a second round of proposals for around 108 Hill parcels that haven’t yet been claimed.

“So the URA and the city, they’ve been assembling properties for many, many years, and leadership has signaled the desire to bring these properties back to productive use, but not do it at the expense of the residents and the businesses who are already in the neighborhood,” Walker said. 

“Nobody’s clamoring to do anything with this land. But the people who live in the neighborhood are clamoring to see their neighborhood revitalized. Why not bend the arc of our support toward that intention, that dedication?”

If it works, Walker added, “it means that we have been able to abate the blunt force of gentrification in a neighborhood that is at risk for it. I think it means that we can preserve the culture of this neighborhood. We can preserve that cultural legacy. And we can do it in a way that will stand the test of time.”

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a package of $1.12 million in grants and loans to Operation Better Block for conversion of the Givner Building, on the corner of North Homewood Avenue and Kelly Street, into two commercial spaces and six affordable apartments. Dana’s Bakery and the Roux Orleans Caribbean restaurant are expected to take the storefront spots.
  • Approved $400,000 in Housing Opportunity Fund lending for renovations to the Montana Building on Penn Avenue in Friendship, which consists of 16 affordable apartments.
  • Voted to sell seven Middle Hill properties to the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh as part of an effort to build 15 affordable rental units and seven for-sale homes.
  • Voted to sell 604 Liberty Ave., near the Roberto Clemente Bridge, for $120,000, to the company that operates the two suburban Hitchhiker Brewing locations. Hitchhiker Holdings wants to rehabilitate the building, at a total cost of around $547,500, and sell nitro coffee by day and beer in the evening. “No samples?” joked Greg Flisram, the URA’s executive director.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at or on Twitter @richelord.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

From the Jan. 16, 2020 board meeting: URA board approves sale for Hill District development of affordable housing and commercial space in New Granada Square

To increase affordable housing and commercial space in the Hill District, the URA board of directors on Thursday approved the $125,000 sale of the Centre Avenue block that houses New Granada Theater for a $14.5 million mixed-use development. 

The five-story New Granada Square development is a partnership between the Hill Community Development Corporation [CDC] and CHN Housing Partners. It will include 7,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 40 affordable apartment units above. 

“We’ve been really working to catalyze redevelopment along this Centre Avenue corridor for many years,” Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill CDC, said. “We think that this is a great signal to the neighborhood and to the broader city that the Hill District truly is on the move and that there is momentum.”

Milliones noted the importance of including affordable commercial space to help stave off gentrification.

”We talk a lot about affordable housing,” she said. “We do not frequently talk about affordable commercial.”

Of the $125,000 sale price, the URA will credit $25,000 back to the development. The development will come before the URA board again for final approval when financing is secured.

The URA board also approved $1.4 million in loans to fund affordable housing in the North Side. The loans — $700,000 from the Housing Opportunity Fund Rental Gap Program and $700,000 from the Rental Housing Development Program — will fund renovations to 70 units in the California-Kirkbride, Central Northside and Perry South neighborhoods. 

“Affordable quality housing is what we really need. And with this loan, it will ensure that we will have permanent, affordable, quality homes,” said Yvonne Rainey, a North Side resident and board chair of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing.

Of the 70 units, 12 will be affordable to households at or below 30% area median income [AMI]; 31 will be available to households at or below 50% AMI; 20 will be available to households at or below 60% AMI; and seven will be available to households at or below 80% AMI. 

The renovations are part of the third phase of a project to rehab 324 affordable units known as Northside Properties. Phase one of the project renovated 75 units. Phase two renovations, which will renovate 122 units, are in progress.

Thursday’s meeting was the first board meeting since Greg Flisram joined the URA as executive director earlier this month.

“I look forward to helping to write the next chapter of the URA and city history here,” said Flisram, who most recently served as interim president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City.

In other business:

  • The URA board approved the 2020 allocation plan for the Housing Opportunity Fund [HOF]. The fund administers $10 million each year for six affordable housing programs, including those that pay for new housing construction, assist prospective homeowners with down payment and closing costs and provide funding to preserve affordable units. City Council is set to hold the final vote on the plan in mid-February. URA board chair Sam Williamson asked for an updated number of affordable housing units the city is lacking, noting that the last estimate — over 17,000 — was from the Affordable Housing Task Force report in 2016, before the HOF was created. The HOF funded 400 new affordable rental units last year and anticipates funding 600 more this year. But, Williamson said, “even at that pace, with these resources and an intensely increased commitment from this organization to affordable housing, it would still take us decades to build our way out of this crisis.” Jessica Smith Perry, HOF director, said the URA hopes to provide an update this year on the number of affordable units that the city is lacking.
  • The URA board approved a $500,000 HOF Rental Gap Program loan for the construction of affordable units in a mixed-income development at Fifth Avenue and Dinwiddie Street in Uptown. The development will consist of 167 units, including 33 affordable units. Of the affordable units, 15 will be studios, 15 will have one bedroom and three will have two bedrooms. The HOF will put deed restrictions on 10 of the affordable units, stipulating that seven units will be rented to households at or below 30% AMI and three units will be rented to households at or below 50% AMI.
  • The URA board approved the creation of a $150,000 program at the Hill District Federal Credit Union to provide lines of credit to women- and minority-owned small businesses. “The new program would initially allow for 14 to 28 new lines of credit with opportunity to grow as repayments revolve,” a press release from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said. The lines of credit will range from $5,000 to $10,000.
  • The URA board approved a loan up to $72,000 for renovations to MOKA Art Gallery in the Hill District. The building also houses an art studio on the second floor, apartments for the artists-in-residence on the third floor and an apartment on the fourth floor. 

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the Dec. 19 URA board meeting:

At its Dec. 19 meeting, the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority approved financing for Phase IV of the Larimer/East Liberty Choice Neighborhoods development, loans for affordable housing in the Middle Hill District and a grant for a small business credit building program. On Jan. 9, the board is set to vote on the 2020 allocation for the $10 million Housing Opportunity Fund.

  • The URA board approved financing for Phase IV of the Larimer/East Liberty Choice Neighborhoods development. Phase IV will use three financing sources: a $650,000 loan from the Housing Opportunity Fund’s rental gap financing program,  a loan of $2,094,150 as part of funding already allocated from the City of Pittsburgh, and a grant of $1,774,122 from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. The development phase will consist of refurbishing Larimer School and building seven new units across the street. Of the 42 units created, 13 units will be reserved for households making 60% of area median income [AMI], 22 units will be reserved for households at 50% and below AMI. Seven units will be market rate. URA Housing Development Director Tom Cummings said earlier phases of the Larimer/East Liberty Choice Neighborhoods development focused more on East Liberty. “This will now have a significant footprint in Larimer.”
  • The URA announced the draft of its 2020 Hill District Coordinated Community Development Work Plan. The plan outlines “how we’re going to ensure coordinated community development in 2020 in partnership with the Hill District community,” Walker said. The URA board requested the creation of the plan in October after the Hill District community submitted a letter to the board about the redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site. The plan was created after two working sessions coordinated by URA staff and the Hill District Community Development Corporation. It outlines actions for the URA to take to maintain community involvement, including quarterly meetings with the URA and the community. The draft will be available on the URA’s website for 30 days for Hill District residents to provide public comment.
  • The board approved two loans totaling up to $250,000 to Catherine Terrace, LLC to build eight rental housing units — four one-bedroom and four three-bedroom units — in the Middle Hill District. All units will be affordable for households at 80% AMI. URA Deputy Executive Director Diamonte Walker applauded the development for including three-bedroom units, which she said only a few other recent affordable housing projects have included. The project’s developers are Hill District residents Ernest Darby and Emma Lucas-Darby. “It’s been a long road getting to where I’m at right now,” Darby said.
  • The board authorized a $100,000 grant to the business incubator Riverside Center for Innovation in partnership with Axiom Advancement Corporation and the online crowdfunding platform Kiva Pittsburgh for a credit building program for small businesses. The program will match 0% interest loans from Kiva Pittsburgh for up to $5,000. In all, that makes up to $10,000 available to small businesses to start building credit.
  • The board approved a real estate transaction with the state that will allow the URA to acquire Hunt Armory in Shadyside. The end goal is for the armory to be repurposed into an ice skating rink, as per the community’s wishes, said URA board chair Sam Williamson.
  • The board approved initial steps for nonprofit service provider Bethlehem Haven in Uptown to rehabilitate its existing 26-unit facility and build another 32 adjacent units for residents who complete their programming but still need supportive services. All 32 units will be affordable for households at or below 50% AMI. 

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the Nov. 14, 2019 URA board meeting:

After approving the hiring of a new executive director, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board voted Thursday to acquire the former Shop ’n Save site and other retail space in the Hill District’s Centre Heldman Plaza for $1.6 million.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] will take over a loan from Dollar Bank, which has held the 2.57-acre property in receivership. URA senior counsel Kate Wrenshall said the move means the URA can have a community process regarding the property’s future, rather than it going to the highest bidder. 

Opened in 2013, the Shop ’n Save was the Hill District’s only full-service grocery store. It closed in March as a result of low foot traffic and a dispute between the store’s owner and its landlord, Hill House Economic Development Corp. The shopping plaza was built with nearly $4 million in public money, including $1 million from the URA. Its loss comes amid the recent financial collapse of the Hill House Association.

The property at 1850 Centre Ave. includes a 29,500-square-foot vacant grocery store and four vacant retail suites totaling 6,910 square feet. Next steps for the property are still being determined. City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who sits on the URA board and represents the Hill District, said there will be a “robust community process” for residents to say how they want the land to be used. 

At the meeting, Hill District residents and community leaders expressed concerns about the lack of community involvement in URA decision making. 

Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation [CDC], urged the board to reconsider the URA’s community process. She explained that the process previously involved close coordination with community organizations.

“A lot of community process has happened without a community partner, and that’s a new thing,” Milliones said.

E Properties and the Hill CDC purchased four  buildings owned by the Hill House Association earlier this year for about $5 million. The Centre Heldman Plaza, another Hill House property, was not among them.

The URA board approved a motion for URA staff to create a work plan to develop a community engagement process that will include community organizations and residents of the Hill District.

Regarding development in East Liberty, the board also voted to enter into exclusive negotiations with Beatty Street Development Team for the development of two mixed-use buildings. The site is owned by public entities including the URA, City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

Plans for the six-story Beatty Square Apartment building at South Beatty and Eva streets include 220 residential units — 66 of which would be affordable at 20% to 60% area median income [AMI] — and 12,000 square feet of commercial space. Plans for Beatty Seniors Lofts, a six-story building proposed at South Beatty and Mignonette streets, include 40 units of affordable senior housing and 2,500 square feet of commercial space to be leased to East Liberty Development, Inc. for 99 years. Plans also include a 480-space parking garage.

While the URA has said the development will bring displaced Penn Plaza residents back into the neighborhood, some East Liberty residents and stakeholders brought up concerns, including a lack of Penn Plaza residents in the planning process and the potential for adverse effects for the nearby Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch. 

“The advisory committee for this did not include any residents from Penn Plaza,” said Alethea Sims, president of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty.

Karlyn Voss, director of external and government relations for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, said the proposed development, particularly the planned 6-story parking garage, would “directly impact the visibility and access” to the library. She asked that the design be adapted to address these concerns. 

Lori Moran, president of the East Liberty Quarter Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said she supports the project because it brings more parking and affordable housing to the neighborhood.

“Small businesses and all businesses are choking from a lack of parking,” Moran said. 

URA board member state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Pittsburgh, said he appreciated the amount of affordable housing in the plan but that he shared concerns raised about Penn Plaza residents and the library. 

“I want the library at the table, and I want somebody from Penn Plaza at the table, as we promised to bring people home,” Gainey said.

The board action included recommendations by the review committee including requiring the developer to meet with the Carnegie Library, Duolingo and other local entities. The board also amended the proposal to include a stipulation to work with displaced Penn Plaza residents as the project moves forward.

In other business:

  • The board approved exclusive negotiations with Allegheny Land Trust [ALT] to take over the 3.6-acre former St. John’s Hospital site in Brighton Heights. ALT hopes to turn the land into a greenspace, including stormwater infrastructure funded by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. 
  • The board approved a $200,000 Housing Opportunity Fund grant or deferred loan agreement for renovations of the Pittsburgh Mercy winter homeless shelter Downtown. The shelter houses up to 20 women and 100 men per night.

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the Oct. 18, 2019 URA board special meeting:

The Urban Redevelopment Authority board has approved a series of measures laying out affordable housing and community investment commitments tied to the Pittsburgh Penguins project at the former Civic Arena site. 

The vote was initially scheduled to take place at an Oct. 10 board meeting, but it was delayed after Hill District leaders and residents voiced concerns that the community had not had time to review the proposal before a vote. Several advocates reiterated that concern during Friday’s special board meeting of the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA]. 

The proposal expands on a previous community agreement between the Penguins and community stakeholders that dictates affordable housing and investments in the Hill District. Among the measures the URA approved Friday was a commitment to reserve 20% of housing units in the project for families making at or below 50% of area median income [AMI] for 20 years, along with making 50% of the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Abatement [LERTA] funding — an estimated $40 million — available up front to the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, which is controlled by the community. The board also gave preliminary approval to Intergen, a Hill District-based developer, to begin take-down work on several lots. The mixed-use development will include a music venue, retail, parking garage and 288 units of housing. 

In a letter sent Thursday to Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle and URA Board Chair Sam Williamson, several Hill District stakeholders requested that votes be delayed until next week and that Friday’s meeting be used to provide an update on the public process. The letter was sent by the Hill Community Development Corporation [Hill CDC], residents, business owners and community leaders.

At the request of advocates, the URA board on Friday unanimously approved a motion to formally recognize the letter and create a working group to present an action plan to the URA within 30 days. The plan will outline which items can be moved by the URA and which items can be moved by other entities.

The CDC-led letter made several recommendations, including: 

  • Removing the condition that commitments made by Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment [PAR], the Pittsburgh Penguins’ development arm, be “commercially reasonable.”
  • Create more affordable housing, either by pursuing affordability for 30% of Blocks A and B of the development at or below 50% AMI for the length of any loan terms or by pursuing affordability for 20% of all Lower Hill housing units at or below 50% AMI for the length of any loan terms. 
  • If PAR contributes half of the LERTA funding up front to the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund — meaning that the funding would be made accessible sooner — the city should try to recapture more than $200 million in funding commitments that were made by various entities in connection with a failed application for the federal CHOICE Implementation Grant. The money would have been used for development in the Middle Hill District. 

Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill CDC, asked that the board formally adopt the principles of the letter. 

The board did make some revisions to the terms agreement, including limiting or removing the commercially reasonable standard to the extent possible and amending the agreement’s language about funding for the rehabilitation of the Ammon Community Recreation Center to not limit the facility’s rehabilitation to the elements already included in the agreement. 

But URA board members said some of the letter’s recommendations were outside of the scope of the URA. 

“I don’t disagree with 99% of the letter. It’s spot-on as to what needs to happen,” said Diamonte Walker, URA interim executive director and Hill District resident. She suggested the URA identify the items within its control so it could be held accountable.

Walker stressed the importance of not postponing the vote. “If we don’t act today, if we don’t act now, we are pushing the can down the road and our children will not get the material investments they deserve, our residents will continue to be displaced,” Walker said. “I would not sit here as a Black woman and champion this if I thought for some reason this wasn’t feasible.”

Lavelle, who is co-treasurer of the URA board, stressed the need to capitalize on the reinvestment fund quickly. He said he was open to having monthly meetings to make sure the community is informed on the development process moving forward.

After the meeting, Milliones called the potential $40 million up front from PAR to fund the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund from PAR a “rare opportunity to redress that failed effort” of the unsuccessful HUD grant application. 

“This is a great opportunity to say, ‘OK, we didn’t win the HUD money, but we have this money, so everybody bring their money back to the table,’” she said, adding that the more than $200 million in funding commitments related to the HUD application came from a variety of stakeholders, including universities, the city and the URA. “We want those funds back at the table and invested in the same footprint and the same focus area.”

As requested by attendees of the Oct. 10 meeting, the URA board provided a breakdown of the Civic Arena project’s timeline and next steps, including pending votes through June. Many of those dates have not yet been set. 

The URA also provided a breakdown of the total public subsidies and public benefits for the project. According to the URA, estimated public investment in the project is $80.65 million, including $40 million for the on-site LERTA. Total public benefit is estimated to be $97.83 million, including $40 million from the off-site LERTA to go to the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund.

Milliones said the URA’s breakdown of the public subsidies and benefits differs from that of the Hill CDC. The Hill CDC estimated the public subsidy to be $99 million, with the known public benefit being $1 million, not considering the value of the rehabilitation of Ammon Recreation Center, the affordable housing, and other proposed benefits with unknown dollar amounts. 

Kevin Acklin, senior vice president and general counsel for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said at the meeting: “Our commitment on behalf of the Penguins is to be as transparent as possible, as collaborative as possible.” Acklin recognized the historic distrust between the Hill District and the city. “For decades upon decades, the Hill District has been disenfranchised and disconnected from development and economic opportunities on behalf of the city,” Acklin said. “Our commitment … is to use this development as a way to reconnect the Hill to the city.”

Acklin and members of the URA board stressed that Friday’s vote was the first in a series of votes by multiple entities, including the Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. “All of these issues will be vetted over and over again,” Acklin said. 

Bomani Howze, a Hill District resident and part of the Intergen development team, spoke at the meeting about growing up in the Hill District and of his grandparents’ displacement in the neighborhood.

“I want you to understand that as developers, we are not on the other side,” Howze said. “We are with you. This is our charge.”

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the Oct. 10, 2019 URA board meeting:

After pushback from Hill District residents and activists, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board on Thursday delayed voting on a plan for affordable housing and community investment from the Pittsburgh Penguins in connection with the redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site.

The board plans to schedule a special meeting on the plan in the future.

Mayor Bill Peduto’s office on Wednesday announced the plan as a way to “catalyze investments in the Lower and Greater Hill District that will have a meaningful impact on Hill District residents and future generations.” 

But before the board could vote, residents and Hill District leaders voiced opposition, saying the community hadn’t been sufficiently involved and didn’t have time to review the proposal. In a Wednesday press release, Peduto’s office and the URA said the new measures were intended to expand on an earlier plan between community stakeholders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

”The community hasn’t had a chance to even lay eyes on it,” Marimba Milliones, president of the Hill Community Development Corporation, told the board. 

Among other items, the proposal includes:

  • More than $29 million for the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, with spending to be controlled by the community;
  • Affordable housing in 20% of units for 20 years, reserved for families making 50% to 60% of area median income;
  • Rehabilitation of the Ammon Community Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue;
  • The creation of well-paying jobs for Hill District residents, including reactivation of a First Source Center and local hiring commitments; 
  • Space and funding for the Catapult minority business incubator. Businesses in the program would be able to lease retail space for $1 per year for the next 29 years. 

Milliones asked the board to consider implementing a different process for community involvement. “What do we have to do to make sure that, in the future, we have access to whatever is going to be voted on sooner than the moment it’s happening?” Milliones said, proposing that the URA share information on proposed votes at least 72 hours in advance. 

URA board member R. Daniel Lavelle addressed critics by saying decisions on what to include in the agreement were made after years of constituent feedback. 

“I want to push back on the idea that they came without long-standing community conversations,” said Lavelle, a Pittsburgh city councilman representing the Hill District. “I’ve been engaged with this process for nine years…these items have literally been talked about every single year that I’ve been in office.” 

The new proposal would expand upon the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan, a 2014 agreement between community stakeholders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins in 2008 signed on to the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement, which called for $8.3 million in community investment, along with other non-monetary benefits.

After previous development proposals fell through, the Penguins revealed the site’s latest plan earlier this year, including a music venue, retail and a parking garage. The first phase of the plan would include 288 housing units at the Corner of Fullerton Street and Centre Avenue, including affordable housing. The Hill District-based developer Intergen is leading the project, projected to begin in early 2020. 

Conversations about how developers and public entities should invest in the neighborhood as part of the development have been ongoing for more than a decade. Construction of the Civic Arena began in 1958 after homes in the lower Hill District were razed, displacing thousands of residents. Demolition began in September 2011. 

URA board chair Sam Williamson introduced the related agenda items by acknowledging the URA’s role in what he called “historic wrongs” done to the Hill District community. “Even though those were decisions made in different times by different boards, they are still the decisions of this organization,” Williamson said. “We have some opportunities to try to make amends, to try to make some degree of reparations frankly for those decisions.”

One of the investments proposed by the URA includes making 20% of housing units available to residents at 50% to 60% area median income [AMI] for 20 years, an increase from the current deal which guarantees 20% of units available for 7 years at 60-80% AMI. The property would use project-based housing vouchers from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. 

Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group said the original community plan calls for 30% of the units on the Lower Hill to be affordable for families at 50% median income and below. “There’s not one single unit in this plan that meets the community plan guidelines,” Redwood said. “It’s a way to racially exclude the majority of Black families from being able to live in the Lower Hill.”

Williamson stressed that the URA’s vote would not finalize the plan. It also requires the approval of other entities like the Sports & Exhibition Authority board and city council, as well as additional votes by the URA. “This is the first of many votes,” Williamson said.

Kevin Acklin, senior vice president and general counsel for the Penguins, said the organization is “fully committed” to all of the proposed investments. Acklin previously served as URA board chair and Peduto’s chief of staff.

Peduto’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

In other business, the URA board approved a $100,000 grant for Trade Institute of Pittsburgh [TIP] to renovate units at 7911 Susquehanna St. in Homewood. TIP plans to provide housing and support services to its students entering the workforce after incarceration. 

“About 30% of our students are currently experiencing homelessness,” said Maggie Beldecos, giving director for the institute. The project is also being financed by Neighborhood Allies, the Home for Good program, and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. 

Carmen Brown, a community housing activist with Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, expressed concern about a lack of information available to the community. “We didn’t know about this development,” she said. “Every time I come to the URA, it’s always these pop-up developments.”

Homewood Concerned Citizens Council Executive Director Cherylie Fuller said she knew of the project and expressed support for it. “It’s needed in Homewood because we always talk about people leaving the community, going to jail, coming back and needing housing. And this is an awesome opportunity that they should have somewhere to return to.”

Beldecos said the trade institute held several community meetings over the last year and a half. 

Notable items regarding the Housing Opportunity Fund:

  • The board approved revised program guidelines for the Small Landlord Fund, including an increased maximum loan term of 15 years and added anti-displacement language. At the suggestion of advocates, the board also plans to add tenant protections against landlords with code violations.
  • The board approved a  loan agreement for $110,000 with Stanton Avenue Associates LP for the renovation of 5635 Stanton Ave. in Highland Park. The property has 11 units of affordable housing occupied by tenants at less than 50% AMI, according to Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation.
  • Module, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based housing startup, is moving forward on building a four-unit mixed income development on Black Street in Garfield. The company was granted a $400,000 Urban Development Action Grant for the construction of an affordable housing duplex at 5452 Black St. Another subsidized affordable housing unit will be available at 80% AMI at 5456 Black St. CEO Brian Gaudio described it as “ basically a break-even project for us to learn how to work as a [community development corporation].” 

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

A recap of the Sept. 12, 2019 URA board meeting:

City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle backed a now-defunct proposal to introduce legislation that would open some Housing Opportunity Fund programs to higher income households — an idea that local affordable housing advocates argued against at Thursday’s Urban Redevelopment Authority board meeting.

According to Celeste Scott, affordable housing organizer at Pittsburgh United, the proposed legislation would have shifted 25% of money reserved for programs that serve households making at or below 30% of area median income [AMI] to programs that would serve households at or below 115% AMI. Under this year’s AMI metrics, which are calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family of four would qualify for homes set at 30% AMI if it made no more than $25,750. For a family of four at 115% AMI, that number is $91,900.

City Council approved the creation of the Housing Opportunity Fund in 2016. An increase to the city’s realty transfer tax funds the $10 million annual budget.

The reallocation plan is “no longer happening,” said Scott, adding that she was part of a meeting last week that Lavelle, who proposed the idea to local affordable housing advocates. Lavelle is co-treasurer of the URA board.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto, said the mayor’s office was briefed on the proposal.

After several affordable housing advocates and neighborhood group leaders commented on the immense need for HOF programming that helps extremely low-income residents, Lavelle said at the board meeting that the intent behind the idea was not to shift money away from programs serving those residents. Rather, he said there were many households in need of help that did not meet the Housing Opportunity Fund [HOF] income requirements.

“There are entire pockets of this city –– I live in one of them, the Upper Hill –– where the vast majority of people who could utilize this are literally $500, $1,000 over arbitrary thresholds that have been set,” Lavelle said. “So again, I will always do the best that I can to help those that are among the least of us, but at the same time we need to help those that are right on that border of potentially being placed out of where they live because we’re not helping them maintain the affordable housing units already in existence.”

The discussion came minutes before the URA board approved a plan to double the funding amounts with four social service agencies to administer the HOF’s housing stabilization program, which helps families stave off eviction with emergency rental assistance and counseling.

Macedonia FACE, Pittsburgh Mercy, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh are the social service agencies administering the program.

The measure also added a $9,000 contract with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to act as the first point of contact for calls seeking emergency rental assistance.

United Way will now be able to direct residents to the program through its 211 hotline. The 211 service is in operation 24 hours a day.  Callers can use the number to contact the United Way about social services in Western Pennsylvania.

The demand of the program is “very, very high,” said HOF Director Jessica Smith Perry.

Marjorie Lennox, director of housing programs at the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, said her office had fielded more than 250 calls for the program in just the last three weeks.

“This has turned into a full-time position for one of my staff,” Lennox said.

The doubling of the contracts is made possible by using unspent money allocated to the program in 2018. The program did not start running until earlier this year, Smith Perry said.

The contracts will pay for the program for the next 10 months, the HOF director said. The URA expects to serve 348 households by that time.

In other action:

  • The URA board approved a plan to convey 14 acres of the former site of the Union Foundry at 62nd and Butler streets to the City of Pittsburgh. URA Board Chair Sam Williamson said the city has made early plans to move the Department of Public Works facilities in the Strip District and elsewhere in Lawrenceville to the site. “There are currently no specific plans or timetables however, or specific plans for what could be done with Strip properties,” McNulty said.
  • The URA board also approved a plan to transform a former radio station building in Homewood into six below-market-rate housing units and two storefronts. The rents for the units will be $650, said Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block. The storefronts will bring a New Orleans-style restaurant and a bakery to the neighborhood The project will cost the Homewood nonprofit about $1.9 million.
  • The URA board approved a $35,000 contract with consultant Studio Volcy, LLC to develop a modular home in Larimer for octogenarian twin sisters who lost their home two years ago from a fire that occurred while a contractor was making facade improvements to their home. The contractor, Allstate Building & Remodeling, had been hired as part of a $20,000 grant within the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative awarded to the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to revitalize Larimer. Under the terms of the new contract, the modular home must be completed within six months.
  • The URA board also voted to raise the caps on loans from the Small Landlords program from $20,000 to $60,000. For a favorable loan, landlords with buildings of five units or fewer must make improvements to the property that would allow them to pass inspections for the housing authority’s Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly known as Section 8. A long waiting list of families with few landlords willing to rent to them has created a crunch in the Pittsburgh housing authority’s voucher program. The URA has  $500,000 in financing from the PNC Foundation for the program and has applied for a $250,000 state grant.

Correction (9/13/2019): This story previously misstated the attendees of a meeting on the Housing Opportunity Fund.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource’s Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

In another round of public funding, Uptown development gets $2 million from the URA

An Uptown development project that includes a parking garage, affordable housing and commercial space will get an additional $2 million in financing from the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA]. The funding is the $61.4 million project’s latest chunk of public money, which already includes $4.2 million from the URA in future tax revenue from the parking garage.

The URA board of directors approved the new funding on Thursday.

The City’s Edge project by MidPoint Group of Companies, a Pittsburgh-based developer, already secured a number of other public subsidies. The subsidies include $5 million in gap financing from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, a commitment of project-based vouchers that would subsidize the rents of income-restricted households, $11.5 million in bonds secured from the Allegheny County Industrial Development Authority and another $1.5 million from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund.

The residential side of the project includes 110 housing units, with 77 of the units to be rented below market rate to income-qualifying households. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency [PHFA] granted the project two Low Income Housing Tax Credit [LIHTC] awards, which cannot be used to build commercial space. Conversely, a federal New Market Tax Credit for the commercial spaces cannot be utilized for housing.

The cost of the residential component of City’s Edge totals $39 million, while the commercial spaces, which includes the 528-space parking garage, would cost $22 million.

The plan for the site includes a new restaurant location for Carmi Soul Food in the South Side, a minority business incubator space, an urgent care clinic and a daycare, according to Nathaniel Boe, president and CEO of MidPoint.

The new Carmi location will be smaller than its East Carson Street location and include lunch-style cafeteria service, owner Carleen King said.

Of the 77 below-market-rate units at City’s Edge, 10% would be reserved for households at or below 20% of the Area Median Income [AMI], according to Boe. AMI is a metric calculated each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. For example, the income limits of an individual making 50% of AMI would be $28,000. Another 60% of the City’s Edge units would be reserved for households at or below 50% AMI, Boe said, and the remaining 20% of the units would be rented for households at or below 60% AMI.

The $2 million newly approved by the URA board comes from the URA’s $1 million reduction of the purchase price of the land and an additional $1 million in financing from the Housing Opportunity Fund’s [HOF] Rental Gap Program.

The HOF program requires that a for-profit developer partner with a nonprofit developer to be eligible for Rental Gap funds. MidPoint has partnered with the Hill District Community Development Corporation, which will act as a property manager of the commercial facilities of the project.

Boe said he expects to close on remaining private financing, about $1.4 million, in the next three months and begin construction before the end of the year. The additional URA funds are contingent on MidPoint’s closing on remaining portions of its financing, and litigation tied to the property is resolved.

A lawsuit against Boe and the URA was filed last year by Robert Lewis, owner of Orbital Engineering, a firm that is leasing the URA parking lot on the development site, and David Minnotte, a development partner with Lewis. The two alleged in filings that Boe falsely claimed to the URA that he had secured investment guarantees from Lewis and Minnotte to make his bid for the development site more competitive.

Minnotte is the board chairman of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, and Lewis resigned from airport authority board in March.

The URA originally put out a request for proposals in 2017 for a parking garage to be built on the site to accommodate the loss of parking from the former Civic Arena site and growing business activity in the area.

It included a provision that the lot’s lessee, Orbital Engineering, would have an opportunity to purchase 100 parking spaces in a new development.

The URA and Boe denied the claims in court filings. MidPoint later offered to sell to Lewis and Minnotte’s development group, 5th Avenue Partners, LLC, up to 100 parking spaces in the development for $41,500 a space.

The two sides did not reach an agreement on the matter and are in negotiations outside of court. On Thursday, Boe said he had reached an agreement in principle with 5th Avenue Partners after a long meeting Wednesday.

Jordan Lee Strassburger, attorney at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky representing 5th Avenue Partners, disagreed with Boe’s characterization that the two sides had reached an agreement in principle. But he said both sides are negotiating in good faith.

“We’re trying to get creative,” Strassburger said. “The URA has properties. I represent a developer that is interested in properties. We are trying to reach a resolution that is just very tricky.”

The URA’s additional gap financing approved Thursday expires Dec. 12 if the project’s financing and real estate closings don’t happen by then.

Hazelwood Initiative

The URA board agreed to provide a $400,000 zero-interest loan to the Hazelwood Initiative for a $2 million plan to buy 22 rental units in the neighborhood. The seller is a local landlord that has leased to longtime residents at affordable rates. The purchase is part of a larger program from the Hazelwood Initiative to preserve affordable rental units in the area.

The sale is the first of three phases for the Hazelwood Initiative to buy a total of 63 units and preserve their affordability.

The project is part of efforts by Hazelwood residents and local leaders to anticipate rising rents from the future development of Hazelwood Green by Almono Limited Partnership. Current plans call for 3,200 new housing units at Hazelwood Green. Most of that housing will be at market rates, according to the URA.

The 63 units are currently owned by retired firefighter and Glen Hazel native David Cunningham. Many of the units have been rented to lower-income tenants using housing choice (Section 8) vouchers from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP].

For the 22 units in the first phase of the project, the Hazelwood Initiative is pursuing a 35-year deed restriction that secures income requirements. Five units will be reserved for households making 30% of the AMI, and 12 units will be reserved at 50% AMI.

The Hazelwood Initiative is also working to secure project-based Section 8 vouchers through HACP for some of the units. Similar to housing choice vouchers, where income-qualified residents can rent from private landlords and have 70% of housing costs covered by HACP, project-based vouchers tie subsidies to specific units, rather than individuals.

Wylie Avenue

The board also approved the sale of two lots at 2932 Wylie Ave. in the Middle Hill District for $1 to architectural designer Lakeisha Byrd, founder of CommunionPLACE, LLC. Byrd’s organization is a real estate and architecture firm.

The lots came into city ownership through the treasurer’s sale due to tax delinquency.

There is a vacant structure on the site, and Byrd plans to redevelop it to include commercial space on the first floor with apartments above.

Small Starts grant for Bus Rapid Transit

The board also approved the URA to collaborate with the Port Authority of Allegheny County on an application to the Federal Transit Administration [FTA] for a Small Starts grant, which would help fund the building of the Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] to connect Downtown to Oakland and the East End.

The county and city agencies working on the project would still need to find matching funds to realize the project if the Port Authority won the FTA grant.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource’s Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

Pittsburgh wins 5 LIHTC awards

For the Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2019 has been a year of rolling out long-awaited programs to address a lack of affordable housing, and today those efforts have garnered support from state officials who awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credits [LIHTC] to five projects in Pittsburgh. The program, administered by the Internal Revenue Service, offers coveted tax incentives to developers who build below-market housing units in exchange.

According to a press release from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, the five LIHTC awards comprise “the largest number of Pittsburgh developments to receive the low-income tax credits in memory.”

Of the 39 awards announced Thursday by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the five in Pittsburgh were:

  • Larimer School preservation and reuse: 35 units of mixed-income housing in Larimer from St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar and Allies & Ross Development, the nonprofit development arm of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP].
  • North Negley Residences: 45 below-market-rate units in Garfield from Beacon Communities Services LLC, Ralph A. Falbo, Inc., and MCAPS LLC.
  • Flats on Forward in Squirrel Hill South: A project of Action Housing, Inc. with new construction of 43 below-market-rate units, retail and office spaces.
  • New Granada Square in the Hill District: A project by the Hill Community Development Corporation and CHN Housing Partners that includes new construction of 40 below-market-rate rental units and 7,200 square feet of first-floor retail space.
  • City’s Edge: From developer Midpoint, the project includes 70 below-market-rate units in Uptown.

A recap of the July 11, 2019 URA board meeting:

    • The board approved a $500,000 loan from PNC Foundation for a new “Small Landlord Fund” as part of the HOF. The Small Landlord Program would provide loans of no more than $60,000 to landlords so they can make repairs to pass inspections required as part of the Housing Choice Voucher program, the formal name for Section 8. The repairs must be for buildings with no more than five units.
      The board also approved an application for a $250,000 state grant for the Small Landlord Program.
    • The board also approved a six-month negotiation window to sell 34 parcels of land on two sides of the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dinwiddie Street in Uptown to a development group that plans to build two mixed-use buildings with 167 rental units. Of those housing units, 16 would be reserved for households at or below 60% AMI, 13 at or below 50% AMI, and four units at or below 20% AMI.
    • The housing development would feature a mix of micro, one- and two-bedroom units.The $51 million plan, proposed by a developer group made up of Bridging the Gap Development and HB Development, also includes a repurposing of a city-owned warehouse building on the east side of Dinwiddie for a mixed office and commercial building. The project’s financing hinges on a 4% Low Income Housing Tax Credit award that the developer group plans to apply for next year.
    • The board approved a $650,000 loan from the Housing Opportunity Fund’s [HOF] Rental Gap Program as the final piece of financing for a $15 million renovation of the former Lemington Home for the Aged in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. The project will create 54 one-bedroom units for seniors, according to Jessica Smith Perry, director of the HOF. A deed restriction included in the project will dictate that 10 units of the Lincoln Avenue property in the building will be rented to households with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income [AMI], and 44 units will be rented to households making at or below 50% AMI.
      The developer group, a limited partnership between Ralph A. Falbo, Inc. and AWK Development, has also secured a commitment from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP] for project-based Section 8 rental assistance. Under the program, residents of all 54 units will pay no more than 30% of their gross income in housing costs. HACP will use federal dollars to pay the remaining 70% of costs.A new primary care center from East Liberty Family Health Center will operate on the ground floor, along with an adult day center, Smith Perry said.
    • The board also approved the URA’s acquisition of 21 parcels from the City of Pittsburgh on Herron Avenue, as well as Milwaukee and Ossipee streets, to make way for a proposed residential townhome development from Amani Christian Community Development Corporation. The organization is working with Catalyst Communities, LLC on the details of the plan, according to Nathan Clark, URA’s real estate department director.
    • The board approved $200,000 allocated to the URA by the city for a pilot program that aims to guide small business owners in creating development projects for URA-owned land in the Centre Avenue corridor of the Hill District. A neighborhood development organization, Neighborhood Allies, will conduct the services as part of the pilot, called the Equitable Empowerment Program. The authority’s target date to release a request for qualifications is July 22, said City Councilman and URA Board Co-Treasurer R. Daniel Lavelle. The councilman, whose district includes the Centre Avenue corridor, said the goal of the pilot is to have as many minority- and women-owned businesses as possible to join in the redevelopment of Centre Avenue.


  • Corection: A previous version of this story referred to Lakeisha Byrd as an architect. She is an architectural designer.
  • Tom Lisi is PublicSource’s Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

    A recap of the June 13, 2019 URA board meeting:

    From new homeownership opportunities using community land trusts to the rehabilitation of aging homes for low-income renters, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board of directors pushed through project after project tied to affordable housing initiatives on Thursday.

    “Every one of these actions has the added benefit of proving the Realtors Association wrong,” board chair Sam Williamson said. The Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh’s opposed the city’s funding of the Housing Opportunity Fund [HOF] through an increase in Pittsburgh’s realty transfer tax, arguing it would increase costs tied to buying and selling real estate for low- and moderate-income residents.

    After a delayed rollout of HOF programs, the fund has provided monetary support to projects that have improved or created 616 low-income households so far this year, according to a presentation Jessica Smith Perry, the fund’s director.

    The latest HOF action approved Thursday included:

        • A series of grants and loans to Lawrenceville Corporation to buy six homes to enter into its Community Land Trust. The grants and loan, totaling $825,000, will go to the $1.6 million project to establish the homes as “permanently affordable.” $300,000 of that will come from the HOF For-Sale Development Program, which funds the rehabilitation of existing homes that can be subsequently sold to households with incomes at or below 80% AMI. The trust requires that the homes later be sold at a below-market price to preserve affordability.
        • The board also approved a similar plan from the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, financed in part by $140,000 from the For-Sale Development Program. The project will renovate five homes on Frazier Street, which will also be sold to households with incomes at or below 80% AMI.
        • Also through the HOF, the Hill Community Development Corporation secured $135,000 in financing for the rehabilitation of two homes to be sold to households at or below the same 80% AMI threshold.

    Though not part of any HOF program, the board approved an additional $1 million loan to finance a $41 million housing rehabilitation project in the North Side by managed by Mistick Construction.

    The plan is the second of four phases to refurbish 324 units in existing housing stock in the North Side built more than a century ago. The collection of homes, spanning California-Kirkbride, Central Northside and Perry South, will be rented to households at or below 50% of Area Median Income [AMI] through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 program.

    The average cost of renovations is $200,000 per building, according to URA officials, and most of the buildings will get gutted and reframed.

    The financing for the second phase of the project also includes $14 million of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and $4 million in Historic Tax Credits from the National Park Service.

    The board also authorized the URA to sell $18 million in bonds to help finance the third phase of the North Side rehabilitation project, which aims to complete another 70 units. While URA officials expect the phase two deal to close next month, Mistick is waiting on various tax-credit awards for the third phase. That deal could close in 2020.

    In other action, the board approved the sale of the former Homewood School to the City of Pittsburgh to develop the property into an expansion of nearby Stargell Park. The URA bought the property three years ago for $235,000 and is now selling it to the city for $1.

  • Tom Lisi is PublicSource’s Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

    A recap of the May 9, 2019 URA board meeting:

          • The URA board of directors approved $1.36 million in zero-interest loans to to help finance a $13 million mixed-income housing development in East Liberty. Residents displaced from Penn Plaza will have top priority in the application process. The development at the corner of Station and North Beatty Streets, will feature 25 below-market one-bedroom units with rents between $196 to $609 a month, 12 two-bedroom below-market units with rents between $235 and $777 a month, and 10 one-bedroom market-rate units at $1,700 a month.Four units will be rented to households with incomes at or below 20% of Area Median Income [AMI].Twenty units will be rented to households with incomes at or below 50% AMI, and 13 units will be rented to households with incomes at or below 60% AMI. Pittsburgh-based TREK Development Group is overseeing the project, which is also supported by more than $10 million in low-income housing tax credits.
          • The board approved a plan to allocate $10 million for the URA’s Housing Opportunity Fund [HOF] for 2020. The plan is almost identical to this year’s, which split the pot up between five programs for both renters and homeowners. The largest item, designed to fund affordable housing construction, calls for $3.75 million next year, a slight decrease from $3.8 million this year. The new plan calls for $500,000 in contingency spending if new programs are added, according to Housing Opportunity Fund Director Jessica Smith Perry. URA officials estimate altogether the HOF allocation will serve 565 rental or homeowner households. Pittsburgh City Council has final say over approval.
          • The board approved $1.66 million in loans for an $8 million project from East Liberty Development Inc. to rehab 20 existing homes and build six new ones. Seventeen of the 26 homes in the project will be set aside for homebuyers whose household income is at or below 80% of AMI. The homes are scattered through the East End, including in East Liberty, Garfield and Larimer.
          • The board also approved a plan to apply for two $250,000 state grants from the Department of Community and Economic Development: one to help recoup costs of the URA’s purchase of 643 acres of Hays Woods, the other to fund construction of trails and park amenities in the Frick Park extension. The URA has so far secured $3.3 million in public in private grants to cover the $5.3 million Hays Woods purchase.

    A recap of the April 11, 2019 URA board meeting:

          • The URA Board of Directors approved a $1 million sale to developer group Connection TWG of a 2.3-acre vacant lot at South Side Works, behind 3125 E. Carson St. The sale makes way for construction of a 280-unit building, including 28 units that will be reserved for households making no more than 50 percent of the area median income [AMI]. The URA negotiated the affordable units by bringing down the sale price of the valuable lot, according to URA Real Estate Director Nathan Clark. The developer plans to begin construction next month.
          • The board also approved the $102,000 sale of a quarter-acre lot in South Side Works to a company called SSW Waterfront, LLC. The company plans to build a clubhouse at the western end of South Water Street for the South Side Marina. The expected project cost is just north of $1 million.
          • The board approved the City of Pittsburgh’s “Clean Construction Diesel Operations” policy, which requires contractors on URA projects of at least $2.5 million to use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in diesel-powered construction equipment.
          • The board made permanent the URA’s Micro Enterprise Fund, a program the authority piloted over the past year. The program finances loans up to $20,000 for small, neighborhood businesses in Pittsburgh. Tom Link, director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, reported that 23 of the 24 businesses that received loans were either women- or minority-owned. Link said the authority does not recoup the costs of administering the program.
          • The board approved a plan to sell six vacant buildings and 13 vacant lots in Manchester to the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP] as part of the housing authority’s project to rehab 86 housing units created under the federal HOPE VI revitalization program. HACP will also build 40 new affordable modular units under the plan.
          • The board approved a $1 million loan to AHI Development, an affiliate of ACTION-Housing, to build a six-story, mixed-use building at the site of the former Squirrel Hill Theater. As part of the $27 million project, AHI plans to include 37 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units at below-market rates. A quarter of those units will be for residents with disabilities.

    A recap of the March 14, 2019 URA board meeting:

          • The URA Board of Directors approved a redevelopment proposal from Pittsburgh-based TREK Development Group for several lots next to the Garden Theater building on North Avenue. TREK’s preliminary plans include a five-story apartment building with 63 rental units along North Avenue, adjacent to the Garden Theater, and on several lots on Federal Avenue. TREK’s tentative plans include a retail space on the ground floor. The developer estimates project costs to run close to $7.7 million. (Here is a previous PublicSource story on the Garden Theater block.)
          • The board also approved a proposal for the sale of land on North Lexington Street in Homewood for $3.2 million to ICON Development and KBK Enterprises, two Pittsburgh-based developers. The 12-acre site includes a pair of existing buildings where the developers say they will build new office space. The office complex will include rent as low as $10 per square foot to support newer companies. Other space will go for as much $30 per square foot, according to ICON. A final plan for the site will come before the URA board again for approval.
          • The board also approved a $1.2 million URA loan agreement with ACTION-Housing for a 35-unit affordable housing complex in Lower Lawrenceville. Most of the units will cater to households with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median income, a metric calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
          • The URA’s new Housing Opportunity Fund received approval for $750,000 to contract with social service providers for programs to assist renters and homeowners. Neighborhood Legal Services and the YWCA of Pittsburgh, among other organizations, will work with residents who need legal help to avoid eviction or to get the title of their home placed in their name.
          • The Hill District Community Development Corporation also received a $50,000 grant, the final funding piece for the organization to renovate the ground floor of the historic Granada Theater building. Hill Community Development Corporation CEO Marimba Milliones said at the meeting that the organization expects to have a ribbon cutting for the project this summer. The ground floor will be home to Hill CDC programs that help local residents start or expand businesses.

    Tom Lisi is PublicSource’s Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at

    Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

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Rich is the managing editor of PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020, serving as a reporter focused on housing and economic development and an assistant editor. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...