The Pittsburgh Foundation Among Those Honored by ACTION-Housing
The Pittsburgh Foundation was honored with the Award of Excellence at the ACTION-Housing annual luncheon Sept. 9 at the William Penn Hotel. It was the first time the luncheon was held in person since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
ACTION-Housing works to empower individuals and families to live build secure and self-sufficient lives through the provision of safe, affordable housing, essential support services, asset building programs and education and employment opportunities. The 65-year-old organization works with other nonprofits, Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and others to ensure comprehensive services.
Honoring The Pittsburgh Foundation
Last year, ACTION-Housing’s General Counsel and Vice President of Housing, Kyle Webster, participated in the White House Summit on Eviction Prevention along with others from Allegheny County, including some Pittsburgh Foundation staff. At a time when eviction moratoriums were ending and a housing crisis was on the horizon, Webster says he was amazed at how far ahead the county was compared to the rest of the nation.
“That’s all due to the proactive efforts of The Pittsburgh Foundation and their commitment,” says Webster. “A working group convened by the Foundation brought together the city, county and other stakeholders who were diligent about nurturing this conversation and ensuring a true collaborative was working together to address it thoughtfully, equitably and intentionally.”
Out of that working group, Webster says that innovative ideas and collaboratives were developed through the city’s Office of Management and Budget, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Allegheny County government, primarily the Department of Human Services, which collaborated to begin funding the ideas of the working group.
“As a result, the collaboration that exists in Allegheny County among government, foundations, the courts, community groups, tenant advocates, landlord advocates and nonprofits is unprecedented and the envy of urban counties around the country,” says Webster.
Jane Downing, The Pittsburgh Foundation’s senior program officer for economic and community development, accepted the award of excellence on behalf of the Foundation. Honoring collaboration, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority also received the award of excellence.
In praise of successes
Following the awards, Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder gave the keynote address, first thanking the room full of those who have dedicated their careers “to supporting the most basic underpinning of quality of life, health and happiness – safe and accessible housing.”
But ensuring that everyone has access to safe and quality housing is a daunting task. In 2019, there was a shortage of about 37,000 units in Allegheny County. That hasn’t eased much, and rents are increasing at a faster pace than people can afford, especially for those who are considered lower income. Along with a shortage of housing, the eviction rate is climbing back to pre-pandemic levels following the expiration of the eviction moratorium this past summer. Schroeder praised the ongoing efforts of the event host.
“ACTION-Housing has historically been indispensable,” she says, “the conductor, unifying our efforts and pulling us all in the same direction.”
Schroeder thanked the efforts of ACTION-Housing staff, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for partnering to steer American Rescue Plan Funds to help prevent eviction last year. The money supported rental payments, resource navigation, mediation and legal assistance with specific outreach to Black and Brown communities whose residents fared worse during the pandemic than those in white communities.
By the numbers
A total of $124 million went toward protecting 19,000 households from eviction proceedings by compensating 6,400 landlords. An additional $8 million was paid to cover overdue utility bills. Going even further, ACTION-Housing, working with local and state elected officials, steered $375 million in unspent in American Rescue Plan funds into the new state budget to cover vital housing programs including:
- $125 million for the Whole Home Repair program.
- $100 million in Housing Option Funds managed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Assistance Agency to assist developers and nonprofits with constructing, rehabilitating or preserving affordable housing units.
- $150 million fund to support income housing initiatives that increase the ability of state, local, and tribal governments to use American Rescue Plan funds to boost the supply of affordable housing in their communities.
A collaborative future
A clear theme emerged from the day – collaboration. Everything from the successes outlined to the struggles ahead will take coordinated efforts to tackle. And, Schroeder says the Foundation is ready to continue working with partners to find solutions that nobody has even thought of yet.
“We can become a model region for affordable housing if we remember that we are all in this together, after all, that has always been the Pittsburgh way.”