URA coronavirus programs in great demand; more help coming

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A screenshot of Sam Williamson, chair of the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, conducting a meeting of the board by video conference on March 19, 2020.

A screenshot of Sam Williamson, chair of the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, conducting a meeting of the board by video conference on March 19, 2020.

Urban Redevelopment Authority efforts to cushion Pittsburgh residents and businesses against the economic effects of the new coronavirus are drawing intense interest, officials indicated late Wednesday.

A URA program created last week to help those struggling, because of the crisis, to cover housing costs has already drawn some 400 potential applicants. The program pays as much as $3,000 per household, and its initial allocation was $300,000 -- enough to cover just 100 applicants at the maximum amount. The URA is "currently fundraising for the program and trying to help as many people as possible," wrote URA spokesperson Gigi Saladna, in an email response to questions.

The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh is administering the program. It is open only to residents of the City of Pittsburgh with household incomes at or below certain income thresholds who have lost earnings due to the coronavirus crisis, and who need short-term help dealing with rent, mortgage payments or utilities.

The URA also allocated $1 million to provide loans, of as much as $15,000 each, to small businesses in the city facing losses due to the virus and the resulting shutdown of much of the economy. The URA's Small Business Emergency Loan Fund has gotten 174 applications, seeking a total of $2.3 million. "All of our loan officers are working at maximum capacity to meet the overwhelming demand," wrote Saladna.

Tom Link, director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, wrote that the agency is handling the crisis via its "new remote/lean infrastructure" in which all employees are working remotely. “The exponential demand on our program is soon to far outpace our ability to make these emergency loans," he added, and the agency is eager to work with local, state and federal governments to save businesses and jobs.

A URA affiliate, the Pittsburgh Economic Industrial Development Corporation, is administering, within the city, the state's new COVID Working Capital Assistance program, which can make interest-free loans for as much as $100,000.

Details on URA efforts are here. The agency is working on more measures to help businesses and business districts, which it expects to announce next week.

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

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

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