An artist's rendering of a 10-story apartment building proposed for Forbes Avenue, submitted by CA Ventures and Dwell Design Studies to the City Planning Commission on Jan. 26, 2021.

Develop PGH Bulletins: Proposed Oakland apartment building would need height bonus

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email rich@publicsource.org with questions, tips or story ideas. 1/26/21: Transit, pedestrian considerations could justify taller building in Oakland
The impending Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] project linking Downtown and Oakland is a factor in plans to build around 300 new apartments in Central Oakland, the City Planning Commission learned in a briefing. Developer CA Ventures, of Chicago, wants to demolish a longstanding gas station on Forbes Avenue, between McKee Place and Semple Street. In its place, CA wants to build a 10-story building geared toward young professionals, medical workers and students, with built-in parking and a smattering of retail.

From left to right: construction technician Don Bivins hauls debris from an Oakland house in February; Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and others ceremonially shovel at a condo groundbreaking in the Strip District in October; East Pittsburgh Borough Manager Seth Abrams points to the site of a proposed fracking operation in January. (Photos by Ryan Loew and Jay Manning/PublicSource)

21, 20, 19 … As Pittsburgh counts down to a new year amid the COVID-19 economy, 2020’s development questions await 2021’s answers.

The 2020 economy ends with many questions for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and we can only hope that 2021 will answer some of them. Through early January, we’ll raise some of those questions on this page, recap 2020 developments, and share some forward-looking insights. Do you have an economic development question? Email it to rich@publicsource.org. We can’t promise that we have the answer, but we’ll provide whatever intel we can.

People walk along Johnston Avenue in Glen Hazel, near townhomes owned by an affiliate of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

‘Throwing everything against the wall,’ Pittsburgh’s housing authority aims to dent lengthy waiting lists

As Pittsburgh households waiting for subsidized housing continue to outnumber those receiving such benefits, the agency charged with bridging that gap is dishing bonuses to landlords, floating subsidies to developers and more. “So we do have a crisis” in regard to affordable housing, Caster Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP], said in a December interview with PublicSource. “Rents are going up. So we’re throwing everything against the wall.”

Binion leads an agency responsible for sheltering some 7,755 households, either in its own apartments or those paid through the Housing Choice Voucher program, known as Section 8. At the end of November, there were 11,828 households on the authority’s waiting lists.

Brandi Cox, left, and her mother Nancy Cox-Gilmore stand in front of Nancy's house on Huey Street in McKeesport. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

‘A big elephant in the room.’ A McKeesport mother’s months-long battle to save her house has her home for the holidays, with a deadline looming.

When Nancy Cox-Gilmore faced eviction, she made phone calls, talked with whoever would listen, and prayed. And when those prayers were answered, she shared her good fortune widely — until, over just a few months this year, her efforts nearly cost her everything. As snow fell gently on McKeesport this month, Nancy stood outside of her faintly leaning house on Huey Street, recalling the desperate winter of 1999. During the first week of that year, a district judge approved her eviction from a rental house on Jersey Street. As she awaited her March 2 appeal hearing, she had nowhere to take her children and foster kids.

Lower Hill District parking lots, north of PPG Paints Arena. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

December Develop PGH Bulletins: Allegheny County picks new officer to diversify contracting

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email rich@publicsource.org with questions, tips or story ideas. 12/17/20: Allegheny County hires from within in bid to diversify contracting
Allegheny County has hired a new chief equity and inclusion officer, charged with increasing minority- and women-owned business participation in contracts, according to a press release from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office. Lisa Edmonds, a Pittsburgh resident, has been the acting director of the county’s Department of Equity and Inclusion since 2019, and before that served as its deputy director beginning in 2005. According to the release, she was chosen from among nearly 100 candidates for the job.

The Edgar Thomson Steel Works, photographed in January 2020. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

November Develop PGH Bulletins: Bid to frack on Edgar Thomson site goes to court

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email rich@publicsource.org with questions, tips or story ideas.  
11/25/20: Edgar Thomson drilling fight moving to court
A New Mexico company’s bid to frack on U.S. Steel’s land in North Versailles and East Pittsburgh is now in court following a Tuesday appeal filing. Merrion Oil & Gas spent millions preparing to drill on the Edgar Thomson Works site, and the East Pittsburgh Zoning Hearing Board has misinterpreted that borough’s code, according to the company’s Notice of Land Use Appeal filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The timeline: In December 2017, East Pittsburgh council voted to approve Merrion’s zoning application to conduct drilling-related activities on a sliver of the borough’s land.

Pittsburgh City Planning Commission members LaShawn Burton-Faulk (top left), Becky Mingo, Christine Mondor and Rachel O'Neill, from screenshots taken from the commission's virtual meeting on Nov. 10, 2020. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Mayor: Pittsburgh’s board tilt toward diversity is no accident

Eight women and one man sit on Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission. Mayor Bill Peduto would like to adjust that ratio. “I would love to have Pittsburgh be the first city in America to have a planning commission that is 100% women,” the mayor said, in an interview this month. Asked whether men might look askance at that goal, he reasoned that a powerful, all-female board would send a signal that the city was addressing a historical imbalance. “All we have to do is look at the past five decades, when it was all men, [or] there may have been one woman appointed” to the commission.

Left to right: Alberto Benzaquen, of Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations; Cori Frazer of the City-County Task Force on Disabilities; and Morgan Overton of the Gender Equity Commission are helping to diversify the region's power structure in ways that weren't even envisioned 15 years ago. (Photos by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

All on board? Powerful Pittsburgh-area panels are more diverse, but progress is uneven

Women hold nearly half of the seats on major boards and commissions that make many decisions in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and Black residents hold more than one in every four, PublicSource has found as part of the year-long Board Explorer project. Both figures represent steps toward greater diversity in the region’s power structure. In 2005, women occupied fewer than ⅓ of seats on county and city boards, according to a study done then by Carnegie Mellon University students in partnership with the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania. Black residents held 23% of the seats for which the race of the member was known in 2005, but now hold 28%. Presented with PublicSource’s findings, diversity advocates were united in one sentiment: Progress is no cause for complacency.

A rendering of the proposed Uptown Tech building, slated for the corner of Jumonville Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, presented to Pittsburgh's City Planning Commission on Sept. 29, 2020.

October Develop PGH Bulletins: Uptown Tech proposal gets commission’s OK

Develop PGH Bulletins updates you on the Pittsburgh region's economy, including close coverage of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, City Planning Commission and other important agencies. Please check back frequently, sign up for the Develop PGH newsletter and email rich@publicsource.org with questions, tips or story ideas. 10/27/20: Talks on the Hill lead to approval of tech plan
Citing last-minute negotiations between a developer and the Hill Community Development Corp., the City Planning Commission approved the conversion of an abandoned industrial laundry facility into tech and office space. The Uptown Tech project, on Jumonville Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, didn’t get a vote from the commission four weeks ago, after the Hill CDC complained that developer Westrise Capital had not addressed community concerns. This time, attorney Robert Lampl, representing Westrise, said minority- and women-owned business participation in the building conversion would amount to 27% to 42% of the project.