Testifiers detail need to address blight, increase affordable housing in PA

Clearing abandoned properties can make way for more housing options

RANKIN, March 11 – Community leaders highlighted the need to build more affordable housing in in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania, but pointed to blighted homes and deserted buildings as a major barrier.

Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny) hosted the hearing at the Rankin Croatian Home. It featured testimony from local elected officials, housing organizations and community advocates detailing the abundant number of run-down properties in the region and the need to remove those properties to make way for affordable housing.

“We know there are countless homes in our area that have been deserted and are sitting vacant. We also know we have a housing affordability problem that needs to be addressed,” said Salisbury. “We can fix one issue by fixing the other. Tearing down and remediating blighted properties will allow us to put up new, low-cost housing, leading to a cleaner and more prosperous community.”

Former Braddock Mayor and current Braddock Councilwoman Chardae Jones testified about living in Braddock, a borough less than a mile long with a population of approximately 1,700. She spoke about the vast number of forsaken properties in the borough, with some homes still containing furniture. Jones said small communities like these don’t have a budget large enough to tear down buildings, and more help from the state is required.

“I see more properties fall down than are being built. These communities deserve so much better than they’re being given. We can’t rebuild ourselves if we can’t get help to tear them down,” said Jones. “The responsibility should not fall these small towns to come up with creative solutions to fix a problem that has gotten so far out of hand.”

Carlos Carter, President of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, testified about the lack of low-income housing options in Allegheny County. He cited a Housing Alliance for Pennsylvania statistic that showed for every 100 low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities renting in Allegheny County, only 36 affordable rental homes are available. Additionally, 51% of Black renters spend more than 30% of their income. Carter urged the construction of more properties in commercial buildings.

“Developing more housing in commercial buildings that will serve low-and-moderate income individuals and families should be explored more closely,” said Carter. “Municipal governments also should have the capacity to add housing options by receiving state and federal funding to rehabilitate existing multifamily properties.”

In addition to Jones and Carter, testimony was also given by Monique Herrera, Lead Case Manager at CASA San José; Brian Knight, Director of Public Policy for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund; and Ivonne Smith-Tapia, Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services for Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh.

“We heard from testifiers today about how difficult it is for people to find good, affordable housing. It’s clear that we can help address the issue by cleaning up the dilapidated properties and turn them into equal, accessible housing options,” House Majority Policy Chairman Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) said. “We’ll take the testimony we gathered today back to Harrisburg and continue working for the people of Pennsylvania on issues that matter most.”

Monday’s hearing can be viewed here, while testimony for the hearing can be found here. Information about this and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.