by Rich Lord
The public housing agencies for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have joined hands in an unusual dual effort to win federal money to help low-income residents to move to lower-poverty areas.
The boards of the Allegheny County Housing Authority [ACHA] and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh [HACP] have both, in the past week, voted to apply for a piece of the new $50 million Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]. The program is meant to fund more housing vouchers and services to families moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods.
“If the program is successful, you’re helping families attain opportunities that they may not otherwise be able to — areas of higher employment, areas with better schools,” said Frank Aggazio, executive director of the ACHA, in an interview. He said he could envision families moving from the impoverished parts of the Mon Valley to “higher opportunity areas. You can go out west to Imperial, North Fayette, then you can go north to Ross Township. Then you have the south, Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon.”
If successful, the ACHA would like to add 100 housing vouchers (often called Section 8 vouchers) to a portfolio that is now straining to handle the demand for affordable apartments.
The HACP would use its part of any HUD award to help residents to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods within the city, said Marsha Grayson, the city authority’s chief operating officer.
Speaking to the HACP board at its monthly meeting, she did not say whether the authority is seeking more vouchers, but said it would like to fund “counseling, getting people acclimated to the [new] neighborhood, just making sure that there’s a clear understanding with both the landlord and the tenant, of the expectations.”
HUD’s program comes even as President Donald Trump tries to make his opposition to low-income suburban housing a campaign issue.
In its online description of the grant program, HUD says it’s offering $10 million to back new vouchers for families with children, and $40 million “for mobility-related services.” Families with vouchers pay 30% of their incomes in rent, and the government pays the rest to the landlord.
The program’s geographic spread, though, is limited by the landlords willing to accept the vouchers. ACHA has placed “some” voucher-backed tenants in places like Oakdale, Sewickley and Ross, the authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program Director Kim Longwell said, but the tenants are often seniors, rather than families with children.
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