Photo by Alyse Horn
Photo taken during the hearing on September 21.

By Alyse Horn

On Wednesday, September 21, a public hearing was held in Council Chambers at the City County Building, 414 Grant St., to discuss a Housing Opportunity Fund and allow city residents to voice their opinions.

The Housing Opportunity Fund would help secure housing for the most economically vulnerable city residents during a time that new development is “increasing housing costs for renters and homeowners,” according to opportunitypgh.org.

“To make this vision a reality, we need to raise $10 million in annual revenue. The fairest way to do this is to create a new one time, assessed at the point of sale, 1% Realty Transfer Tax,” according to the website.

Hundreds of Pittsburgh residents attended the meeting, which began at 5:30 p.m. Those who registered before the meeting were given three minutes to address council with their support and concerns with the opportunity fund. Residents who did not register before the meeting were able to speak for one minute.
Cynthia Simpson, born and raised on the Northside and currently lives in Perry South, said that when she bought her home 20 years ago people who worked hard could “get a good sized home and raise [their] family, but affordable housing is becoming a thing of the past.”

Simpson said the homes that she sees being built along the Federal Street extension and elsewhere in the Northside are defined as affordable, but “I could never afford it.” Simpson said she bought her house for $58,000 20 years ago, and today a house two doors down from her is selling for over $129,000.

“As I am gradually stepping towards my golden years, what is the effect going to be on me when people start coming in and taxes start going up? Am I going to be first out, too? We need to reverse this trend and the Housing Opportunity Fund in the best way to do it,” Simpson said.

Simpson said she supports “a fund that will help keep my family, friends, and neighbors in their homes.”
Mark Masterson, executive director of the Northside Community Development Fund, spoke at the meeting and said it is crucial to get the money out to the people as soon as possible, as “we have a crisis that is happening right now, we can’t afford to wait.”

Masterson was on the Affordable Housing Task Force that was created by Mayor Bill Peduto over a year ago, and said during the testimonies heard during the community outreach meetings were “heartbreaking, and there was nothing we could do about it except try to work faster and harder to get this thing done.”

Masterson said over the years the city use to receive millions of dollars from federal and state funds, which would go towards economic development in the city, and those monies have dwindled to zero, meaning it is apparent that “we can’t rely on the state or the feds to help us with this problem.”

There are a few key things Masterson said that should be focused on to create a successful opportunity fund, one being that “50 percent of the funds as we proposed are reserved for 30 percent of are medium income or less.”

“The next 25 percent of the funds are restricted to people making 85 percent of the medium area income… and the final 25 percent would be restricted to folks at 80 percent area income,” Masterson said.

Silas Russel, also a Northside resident and works for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, correlated housing issues to healthcare issues. He said when multiple people need to live in a one bedroom apartment because they can’t afford a larger home; one person becoming sick means everybody will fall ill.

Russel also said ”folks who are purchasing houses more often and who are contributing to the increase in the market rate through flipping houses have more stake in finding a solution to the problem” and that the most vulnerable citizens have first access to funds.

For more information on the Housing Opportunity Fund, visit www.opportunitypgh.org.