Originally published: 12/19/2022
Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Pittsburgh officials are continuing to explore ways to preserve and expand affordable housing options for low-income residents. Meanwhile, the foundation community and local nonprofits are stepping up to help that effort in a big way.

The Henry L. Hillman Foundation recently announced $11.2 million in grant funding for affordable housing initiatives. The new grant funding will support existing programs and services at 10 different organizations that provide low-interest loans, mission-driven housing development, homebuyer education classes and more.

“In Allegheny County, sale prices for homes over the past five years have exceeded inflation and rents have increased by 20% in Pittsburgh over the past year,” said foundation president David K. Roger in a statement.

Additionally, according to the National Low Income Housing coalition, Pennsylvania has an extreme shortage of housing for residents making 30% of average median income, with only 39 homes available per 100 renter households. During the economic unrest of the pandemic, eviction moratoriums kept numerous residents in their homes. As those moratoriums expire, and as rent levels skyrocket, the area’s homeless population has exploded.

In 2022 alone, it has ticked up by 27%. There isn’t a reliable count of people experiencing homelessness, but the number of people staying in different city shelters suggests that it’s at least a couple thousand, likely more. The city and county are working to help this growing population, with strategies ranging from opening a new shelter that also provides mental health services on Second Avenue, Downtown, to redeveloping city-owned properties to create temporary shelters.

In addition to the homeless issue, many longtime residents are also being displaced by high housing prices, particularly residents of color. According to the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, the city’s Black population dropped a little more than 13% from 2010 to 2020. (Pittsburgh’s overall population dropped by 0.9% during the same period.)

The $11.2 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation is in addition to the $23 million three foundations associated with the Hillman family — the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Hillman Foundation, and Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation — have invested in the past five years to support finding solutions in keeping people in their homes.

The newest round of grants will support the preservation of current affordable housing as well as the development of new units and houses. It will also support a number of existing programs that provide counseling and technical assistance to homebuyers and owners.

The grant amounts and recipients are as follows:

• $2 million to Rising Tide Partners for affordable housing preservation.

• $1.5 million for an investment into Bridgeway Capital affordable housing loan fund that is currently invested in $131 million worth of projects underway to create or preserve 475 units in Hazelwood, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty, and Central North Side.

• $1.25 million to the City of Bridges Community Land Trust to preserve affordable housing and develop new units.

• $400,000 to Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh to help with home repairs.

• $250,000 to the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh to help prevent the displacement of low-to-moderate-income Black families.

• $250,000 to LEVEL: Equity Building for technical assistance and guidance for individuals waitlisted for rehabilitated, affordable homes in McKees Rocks.

• $200,000 to Schenley Heights Collaborative to rehabilitate and preserve four blighted houses in the Upper Hill District to be sold to current or former Hill District residents.

• $150,000 to NeighborWorks for personalized homebuyer education programs to support qualified low- to moderate-income Black or Hispanic homebuyers in purchasing available for-sale properties via HUD-certified one-on-one counseling