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Housing Opportunity Fund opens doors to homeownership; Pitt, CMU development updates | The Homepage

By Juliet Martinez


The May 9 community engaged residents in a hybrid meeting where presenters from Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh shared development updates and a representative of the Urban Redevelopment Authority discussed the many resources the Housing Opportunity Fund offers. Download the Hazelwood Initiative Affordable Housing Resource Guide for more information and housing resources.

Housing Opportunity Fund

The Housing Opportunity Fund emerged from a 2015 assessment showing a shortage of 20,000 affordable housing units citywide. The establishment of the fund came with a $10 million per year budget allocation, with the requirement that half of the fund be spent on households earning 30% of the area median income (AMI) or less and 25% of the fund be spent on households earning 50% AMI or less; the remaining 25% of the funds generally must be spent on households earning 80% AMI or less, however first-time homebuyers needing down payment or closing cost assistance can earn up to 115% of AMI. The mayor appoints the fund’s 17-member advisory board, which answers to the Urban Redevelopment Authority board and City Council.

The fund aims to create and preserve affordable housing, for rent and for sale, with a focus on deed-restricted and permanently affordable housing, expanding access for seniors and people with disabilities, increasing the number of affordable homes with supportive services to prevent homelessness, stabilizing neighborhoods and identifying and securing additional funding opportunities, according to Jahd Burns, Housing Administration and Community Outreach Coordinator for the URA.

Mr. Burns distributed a survey soliciting community input on housing needs and possible future ways to use the fund. He explained that the fund was established with space for new programs in response to the needs of residents. Those who have not already taken the survey can do so at www.ura.org/pages/HOF.

The fund's down payment and closing cost assistance program for first-time homebuyers offers up to $7,500 if they earn between 80% and 115% AMI. URA staff can also recommend other funding sources for $5,000 more, he said.

The homeowner assistance program offers up to $35,000 for home repairs with a focus on fixing code violations. Once the house is up to code, the homeowner can use the remaining funds to do whatever repairs or upgrades they wish in their home. The application window for this program is expected to open for about a month, starting at the end of June. Mr. Burns said only 70 to 80 applications will be approved.

The housing stabilization program offers help in a short-term financial crisis to homeowners earning 80% AMI and renters earning 50% AMI. This program can help with the security deposit for a new rental, or payments of rent, mortgage or utilities.

Homeowners and renters can get legal help through the fund as well. Renters can access mediation, and legal advice or representation for eviction filings. Homeowners who face foreclosure or tangled title issues can also get free legal help.

The URA small landlord program helps landlords with 10 or fewer rental units upgrade or repair with interest-free loans of up to $20,000 per unit. Landlords who receive funds through this program must rent to either housing choice voucher holders or to households that earn at most 80% AMI.

The OwnPGH homeownership program provides loans up to $90,000 for first-time home buyers seeking to purchase a home within the city of Pittsburgh. These loans are forgiven after 10 years in the home. Buyers must pre-qualify with one of the program partners: First Commonwealth Bank, SSB Bank and Dollar Bank.

The Rental Gap program provides loans to developers, including nonprofits, for the creation or preservation of affordable units. So this can be new construction, or rehab of homes specifically for rent. And the For Sale development program is a similar concept, except it is intended to promote the construction or rehab of affordable homes for sale.

Pitt BioForge

One of the region's biggest employers is bringing a state-of-the-art economic generator to Hazelwood Green. Members of the University of Pittsburgh community engagement team for Hazelwood spoke about the university’s commitment to community engagement. The BioForge life sciences manufacturing facility that is planned for Hazelwood Green should break ground in late 2023 but Pitt will also open a community engagement space that it will rent from the new building Center of Life is planning to build. This will have a staff of four people and will offer enrichment activities focused around life sciences – that is, the study of living things and the processes of life – as well as free space for nonprofits and groups to use for activities that benefit the community.

The purpose of the community engagement process is to determine what kinds of opportunities the center should present for residents.

Phase one of the process goes through January 2024 and will involve working with community, university and key systems leaders to develop a list of opportunities to pursue. In phase two, starting next spring, residents and community members will collaborate with the coalition teams on the opportunities that would most benefit the community.

The three coalition teams focus on inclusive community development, workforce development and pre-K to 12 education. Each of these teams has three leads: a community lead, university lead and a system lead. A system lead would be someone who comes from a citywide or regional institutional entity.

Hazelwood Initiative Executive Director Sonya Tilghman is the community lead for the inclusive development coalition. The community leads for the other coalitions are Davis Consulting Solutions Founder and President Dr. Danielle Davis for workforce development, and Center of Life Director of Programs Danielle Chaykowsky for k-12 education.

The presenters emphasized that their goal is to fill needs, not duplicate or take away from good things already happening in the community, and that they hope to learn more from residents in future meetings.

Hazelwood Initiative is committed to making sure this development benefits the neighborhood. If you missed the meeting or would like to discuss Pitt's community engagement, email your suggestions to Ms. Tilghman at stilghman@hazelwoodinitiative.org.

CMU robotics center


A computer-assisted drawing of a long, multi-story building with a wide, open area at one end.
Aerial view of the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Innovation Center to be built between Irvine Street and Plaza Way, and between Tullymet and Berwick streets. The light blue area on the end near Berwick Street is the robot “running room” where robot testing will be visible to the public. Rendering courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University

Bob Reppe from Carnegie Mellon University and Jen Askey from Perkins Eastman gave an update on the planned Robotics Innovation Center at Hazelwood Green. The three-story, 150,000 square foot facility will be dedicated to robotics research and will not contain classrooms. It will contain a drone cage for flying robots, an indoor water tank for swimming robots, and a running room for robot testing and demonstrations. These activities will be visible to the public while ensuring that safety and security measures are in place.

CMU has applied for Zoning Board of Adjustment approval to consolidate two parcels and eliminate a shared way. They are also requesting amendments to the building frontage requirement and active ground-floor use regulations.

The presenters said they are seeking input and collaboration with the community to ensure the project benefits Hazelwood. From employment opportunities to partnerships with local organizations like Girls of Steel, the goal is to address the needs and interests of the community, such as technology training for seniors and robotics and arts education for neighborhood children.

The presentation concluded by outlining the project timeline, with a zoning hearing scheduled for May 18 and review by the Planning Commission in July. If all goes well, construction is expected to begin in late summer, with occupancy targeted for summer 2025.


Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.

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