URA, Urban League among those providing assistance to Pittsburghers in need due to coronavirus pandemic

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

Pittsburgh is a ghost town.

Which, in this case, is a good thing. A great thing.

COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, is trying its best to spread throughout Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, the state of Pennsylvania, the United States of America, and the globe.

But it’s evident that people, like yourself, are heeding the warnings that local officials have incessantly preached on the local news—stay home.

Staying home and away from others (along with washing your hands with soap and water, etc.) will hopefully slow the spread of this disease. But with staying home means a personal financial impact that many are just starting to find out—it’s potentially devastating.

With Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf, ordering all the physical locations of “non-life-sustaining” businesses across the state closed, it’s forced a number of people to be laid off or permanently terminated from their jobs. Others have had their working hours drastically cut.

How will those affected pay the rent or mortgage? The light bill? The water bill? How will they pay for essentials like food and toiletries?

The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that funds are being made available to local residents who have experienced a reduction in working hours or otherwise facing a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. Labeled the “COVID-19 Housing Stabilization Fund” via the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, those interested in the financial assistance can call the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh at 412-227-4163 to be screened.

“This is obviously a really critical action…and sorely needed at this moment in time and I commend Jessica Smith Perry and the rest of the URA staff for acting quickly and coming up with this program on such short notice,” URA Board Chair Sam Williamson said in a release sent to the Courier, March 19.

Also according to the release, to qualify for the COVID-19 Housing Stabilization Fund, households must:

– Be employed, recently employed, or self-employed and experiencing a reduction in hours or a layoff due to the employer reducing/eliminating work hours or the loss of contract work as a public health precaution related to the COVID-19 virus. Documentation from the employer is required.

– Experience a financial hardship and inability to pay rent, mortgage payment(s) or utilities.

– Be located in the City of Pittsburgh.

The program will help tenants at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income to pay rent and utilities, and homeowners at or below 80 percent of the AMI to stay current on their mortgage payments. For mortgage assistance, the homeowner must be living in the house and have their name on the deed. The household’s lenders must still be accepting payments and have not yet issued an Act 91 Notice. The release from the URA also said that final approval for financial support will include verification that all property taxes are current, and that the homes meet the URA home inspection standard.

Those who meet all the eligibility requirements could receive rental and utility assistance, not to exceed $3,000, and mortgage payment assistance, including late fees, not to exceed $3,000.

“We’re hoping that this helps to unlock some other funding, as right now it’s just seed money,” said URA Executive Director Greg Flisram in the release. “We’ve been working the phones to see if we can somehow maximize this and leverage a bigger pool of capital.”

The URA also is helping its small business borrowers, halting all April loan payments and offering Emergency Extended Credit. The URA’s small business clients anticipating cash flow difficulties could obtain a loan up to $15,000, with a zero percent interest rate and no fees. Terms of the loan would be for three years.

Small businesses that are eligible should email tlink@ura.org or jwilhelm@ura.org for more information.

The URA is also temporarily easing and streamlining its Micro-Enterprise Loan Program to support up to 30, zero percent interest loans for small business that are not currently URA borrowers. The loans may be used for rent, payroll and other approved fixed monthly business expenses.

“We believe these steps will provide some relief to our small business community in need,” said Tom Link, the URA director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in a separate release. “We also recognize these resources cannot help every business or the vast financial crisis we may be facing ahead. Our hope is that other lenders (and we know some are already taking similar steps) will work creatively and flexibly to help small businesses through this mounting crisis that threatens to cause extraordinary economic harm to our communities. We continue to work on solutions to help.”

Governor Wolf is also helping the state’s small businesses and non-profits by initiating the availability of a $2 million fund through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“We are incredibly grateful that the SBA recognized the urgency of this situation and granted our request so quickly,” said Gov. Wolf in a March 19 statement on the governor’s website. “I encourage our businesses and non-profits to look at the SBA resources available to them and take advantage of this opportunity for financial assistance during this time of uncertainty.”

Businesses and non-profits may obtain information about the low-interest loans by calling 1-800-659-2955. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster.

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: Port Authority buses are nearly empty these days. The Port Authoruty announced on March 23 that it would reduce its service by 25 percent. – Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)


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