Pittsburgh council finalizes budget

Pittsburgh council finalizes budget

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Tuesday, December 18, 2018/Categories: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh City Council approved the city’s first capital budget post-Act 47 status Tuesday, but not without hearing considerable criticism beforehand.

At the culmination of a month long effort,  two dozen affordable housing advocates testified before council that only restoring a portion of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s financial support from the city wasn’t enough to combat displacement within the city.

Last week, after pleas from advocates and the authority itself, council okayed $2.5 million in funding for the URA after a lower line item riled advocates.

According to Councilman Ricky Burgess (District 9), Chair of the city’s Finance Committee, the funding for the authority is the most significant change to the budget Mayor Bill Peduto proposed in November.

Burgess insisted that the budget reflected the city’s commitment to equity and inclusivity, however speakers such as URA treasurer Cheryl Hall-Russell disagreed and doubled down on the assertion that cuts would widen disparities particularly for black and brown residents who depend on the authority’s support.

“I was asked not to speak today, but I if lose my position I do,” she said. “What you’re doing today improper and damaging. Not totally replacing that money is wrong.”

Over the objections of her fellow board members, Hall-Russell told council she feared for the futures of marginalized small-business owners who depended on the authority for help with funding.

Other speakers like Shad Henderson, director of Community Partnerships and Investments for Public Allies, called on the authority’s history in the city as a reason for the city’s continued support.

“While no institution’s perfect, we’re all aware of the URA’s historical actions in confronting and deconstructing structural racism in our city,” Henderson said. “They stand for equitable development in our city and slashing their funds jeopardizes that.

After public comment, council moved ahead with no other major changes to the authority’s funding, but tried to reassure advocates that restoration wasn’t out of the question in the upcoming year. Councilman Daniel Lavelle (District 6), also a URA board member, reminded the speakers that as the authority’s financial support was a part of the capital budget, which was subject to change.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith (District 2) promised to work with fellow council members to restore the funding. Burgess agreed that restoration was a possibility for the future, but felt it was important to note he didn’t believe the current funding left the authority destitute.

“The URA has ample reserves so it has the capacity to take some of it’s reserve money and put it into its operating budget,” he said. “It’s budget for next year has not been finalized yet, so we’ll have that conversation.

He added that the Housing Opportunity Fund allocated $10 million that will be used for affordable housing projects. Additionally Burgess said council was working with the authority to secure grants for greater funded.

“I believe we passed a very responsible budget,” Burgess said. “And that was important for us after Act 47 to protect our pensions and investments.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at atiya@mypls.com.