Update (04/27/23): Leaders of Pittsburgh’s housing authority promised to use an increase in federal funding to improve their capacity to respond to problems with their Section 8 program, with the board chair setting a target of better service before year’s end.

During the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh’s [HACP] board meeting, a member of the public said that they couldn’t get anyone to call back about Section 8.

“We’re going to rectify this problem. Our goal is within six months,” said Valerie McDonald-Roberts, HACP’s board chair.

HACP Executive Director Caster Binion noted the increase in funds and said the agency is in the process of hiring and training staff for the Section 8 program.

“We’ll be returning phone calls and continue to improve customer service,” Binion said. “Priority number one is that people get timely information.

Reported 4/24/23: An often-made promise by Pittsburgh’s Housing Authority to improve housing voucher services will be bolstered by a federal funding increase of $4.6 million. 

The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP] marked the increase in a Monday press release welcoming the funds to support efforts already underway to address problems including high staff turnover in the voucher department. Households with vouchers pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, with the balance covered by the authority. 

In the release, Executive Director Caster Binion cited efforts similar to those he previously cited in response to criticisms that the authority’s Section 8 program was ineffective to such a degree that it contributed to the area’s increase in homelessness. 

The new  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds bring the authority’s allocation for its Housing Choice Voucher program up to $60.5 million for 2023. 

“We will be ramping up our staff and simultaneously working to train new and existing staff on how to provide an exemplary customer service experience,” Binion said in the release.

Binion cited “high levels (of) staffing turnover within the last year” that left critical roles unfilled, disrupting “lines of communication between staff and landlords and staff and clients.”

Disrupted lines of communication has become a common experience, according to several landlords, tenants and former housing authority personnel interviewed for a PublicSource story earlier this month that highlighted problems in the Section 8 program’s management. 

The voucher program increase comes as a result of the federal government’s decision to pump extra funding to housing authorities across the country to counter effects of rent inflation. Across the country, HUD allocated $2.9 billion more than last year to housing authorities for their voucher programs. 

HACP has a coveted designation as one of HUD’s Moving to Work [MTW] agencies. Under this designation HACP can reallocate voucher funds to other uses, but a spokesperson for HACP said they planned to use the extra money on “enhancing” Section 8.

In the past, the agency has argued that construction of new housing is more effective than issuing more vouchers. But Monday’s announcement put an emphasis back on the implementation of Section 8. 

HACP provides housing to about 5,600 families through Section 8. More than 28,000 households sit on HACP’s voucher waiting lists. As problems around the program continue, landlords have warned that finding landlords willing to accept vouchers could become increasingly difficult. 

Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at ericj@publicsource.org or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

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Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for PublicSource. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...