PITTSBURGH — As the City of Pittsburgh sees a growing homeless population, there is help available from the federal government.
The city has 142 emergency housing vouchers, but less than half are being used.
“If the funds are out there don’t sit on them because when you sit on them, you’re not helping people,” said Reena.
Reena is 59 years old and says he’ll spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He says he’s been on disability for 20 years and receives $1,000 a month, which is why he’s living in the Second Avenue Commons in the City of Pittsburgh.
“I’ve made a lot of friends here. A lot of these people are just stuck in situations like mine. A landlord raises their rent, and they get kicked out of their apartment,” said Reena.
Reena said they’re in desperate need of help, and they’re not getting it.
“The housing programs they have out here now are rigged to fail,” said Reena.
One of those programs created with the goal to help is called the Emergency Housing Voucher program. The program started in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. It was designed to help find housing for people during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic who were experiencing homelessness; at risk of homelessness; or fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking.
“When I first heard about it, I was very excited,” said the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh Executive Director Caster Binion. “Now, let’s look at what’s going on.”
The federal program distributed 70,000 vouchers. Allegheny County received 141 and 142 went to the City of Pittsburgh.
“If the market was different, all those vouchers would be gone,” said Binion.
Two years later, according to data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 19 families are still searching for housing with vouchers allocated to Allegheny County. In the city, just under 50% of the vouchers have been utilized. That’s 72 families. Binion says the money and families are there, but what’s not there are the homes for these recipients.
“So here you have the landlord,” said Binion. “He has these units. This market is kind of tight, so do you rent to the market rate unit where you get $1,500 or do you use housing voucher program where you get $800 or $900?”
The standard a landlord would receive for renting a two-bedroom to a voucher recipient is around $1,000. Binion says to entice landlords, a $1,000 bonus is available for each new unit brought into the voucher program and combined bonuses could be as high as $3,000 per unit.
“We might have money, but we need units,” said Binion.
The other issue is many of the people applying for this assistance don’t have the necessary documents required by the Federal Government.
“People have problems in trying to get their birth certificates, bank statements,” said Binion.
Binion believes the future home of the City of Pittsburgh Housing Authority will help with this issue. It’s expected to open this summer in a building on the Boulevard of the Allies near Smithfield Street. Binion describes their new location as a one-stop shop. People who need help can come to the housing authority and then if they find out they don’t have the required documents they can easily walk to the courthouse or a bank to get them.
“We’re not going to stop until homelessness is over,” said Binion.
Binion believes a big piece of the puzzle is in building and construction.
“We are building a lot of units,” said Binion. “It’s a combination of taking Housing Choice Voucher Money. Working with developers and creating additional new units. It has been successful, and I probably have about 200 more units coming by using that process.”
Binion says they’re on track to more than double the number of affordable units in the City of Pittsburgh in the next five years.
The HACP is set to receive more money from HUD to put towards these projects. It’s getting $60,508,871 for its Housing Choice Voucher Program in 2023. That’s a 10% increase from the program’s 2022 allocation.
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