The first of five community meetings about a new citywide affordable housing plan was held on Thursday, July 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the National Association of Letter Carriers Union Hall in the Northside.

By Ashlee Green

In December of last year, the Pittsburgh City Council established the Housing Opportunity Fund, committing $10 million per year for 12 years towards community housing needs. Last month, City Council named a 17-member advisory board made up of city government officials, representatives from neighborhood nonprofits, and advocates for people who are homeless or disabled to oversee the Fund.

The goals of the community meetings are to spread the word about the Fund, discuss and inform advisory board members on community needs, and formulate an action plan for how the money will be spent. Meetings are organized by Pittsburgh UNITED, a nonprofit promoting social and economic justice. Free dinner and childcare for meeting participants is provided.

The meeting on July 12 started with an introduction and overview of the Fund by co-facilitators Crystal Jennings, Housing and Transit Organizer for Pittsburghers for Public Transit, and Celeste Scott, Organizer at Pittsburgh UNITED. Guests then broke into smaller groups to meet each other and fill out questionnaires about their priorities for the Fund. They discussed what they want advisory board members to know about the city’s housing issues.

Suggestions for the board included: rehabilitating vacant houses, offering rental and down payment assistance, building public housing and community land trusts, raising awareness of housing discrimination against the transgender community, addressing homelessness, arranging legal support for those being evicted, and providing housing and financial counseling.

Jacqui Phillips works as a Housing Counselor at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. Many of her clients are elderly, disabled, or in danger of losing their homes. She attended the meeting and is hopeful the Fund will make more houses available, ultimately helping her clients become self-sufficient.

Swain Uber is a Pittsburgh native currently living and working for the European Roma Rights Centre in Sofia, Bulgaria:

“It’s a real crisis,” he said of Pittsburgh’s housing problems. “Every day we don’t address it, it gets worse.”

To keep up to date on the Pittsburgh Housing Opportunity Fund, follow Pittsburgh UNITED on Facebook, email info@pittsburghunited.org, or show up at a meeting. Upcoming meeting dates are Tuesday, July 24, at Jeron X Grayson Community Center, 1852 Enoch Street, 15219 in the Hill District, Wednesday, August 1 at the Carnegie Library – Knoxville Branch, 400 Brownsville Road, 15210 in Knoxville, Wednesday, August 8 at Eastminster Presbyterian, 250 North Highland Avenue, 15206 in East Liberty, and Tuesday, August 21 at the Community of Change Center, 3621 Chartiers Avenue, 15204 in Chartiers. All meetings are scheduled from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.