Home  /  News   /  Pittsburgh’s Mayor Gainey is Unfiltered and Unafraid to take on tough issues

Pittsburgh’s Mayor Gainey is Unfiltered and Unafraid to take on tough issues

Affordable housing is a major problem in the City of Pittsburgh.

Many African Ameri­cans who once lived in East Liberty, Uptown, the South Side Flats area and parts of the Central North Side have been uprooted, with sparkling, flashy new apartment developments that, if the developers had their way, would have all the units priced at mar­ket-rate.

But in the words of Pitts­burgh Mayor Ed Gain­ey, the city’s first Black mayor, “if you’re coming to ask me for city subsidy, I’m gonna tell you what I need; I need affordability. In providing affordabili­ty we are re-establishing neighborhoods,” the may­or told the New Pitts­burgh Courier during his 75-minute exclusive sit-down with the Courier ed­itorial board, Jan. 23.

This article is the third installment of the Couri­er’s series, “Mayor Gain­ey Unfiltered.” The first two reports focused on the mayor’s “culture change” that he brought to the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Of­fice, including making the workplace safer for many of its Department of Pub­lic Works employees and establishing a new con­tract with the city’s police officers and firefighters; and the mayor’s strategy towards fighting gun vio­lence.

More than 10,000 Black people left the City of Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. Census data. Most of them probably didn’t want to leave, but when rents started going up, or in the case of the Penn Plaza Apartments, a most­ly-Black set of buildings in East Liberty that were torn down to make way for a new development an­chored by Whole Foods, it left African Americans no choice but to flee.

“When we came in, there was no plan for affordable housing,” Mayor Gain­ey told the Courier when he took office in January 2022. “We had to create this, so we’re creating it as we go and we’re being able to make sure we use the tools that we have to be able to do it.”

One of those tools was the announcement of a $31.575 million bond, about $30.6 million of which to be used to make “unprecedented invest­ments into affordable housing that Pittsburgh residents so urgently need,” according to a City of Pittsburgh press re­lease from Dec. 28, 2023. That collaboration be­tween the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh has come to fruition with an announcement on April 3, 2024, of the “Af­fordable Housing Bond Spending Plan.” The plan estimates the creation or preservation of 1,000 af­fordable housing rental or for-sale units within the next three years. Half of the funds used for the plan would benefit fami­lies and individuals at or below 30 percent of the Area Median Income, 25 percent of the funds would benefit those at or below 50 percent of the AMI, and the remaining 25 percent would support homeown­ership opportunities for people at or below 80 per­ cent of the Area Median Income.

As of 2022, the Area Median Income in Al­legheny County was $94,800 for a family of four, or $66,400 for an individual. Most African Americans in the coun­ty fall beneath the AMI, which would qualify them for the affordable housing percentage pro­grams that stand at 80, 50 and 30 percent, re­spectively. As an exam­ple, if a newly created apartment building in East Liberty is market­ed to those families at 50 percent of the AMI, then a family of four making up to $47,400 (as of 2022) would quali­fy to live in the building. In many cases, however, market-rate apartment buildings are only al­lowing, for example, 15 percent of the units to be classified as “afford­able.” This means that if the apartment build­ing allows 15 percent of the residents/families to rent one of the units at “80 percent AMI,” then an individual that makes up to $53,100 annually would quali­fy to live there, and 85 percent of the residents would be paying higher, market-rate rent costs.

“In essence, the Af­fordable Housing Bond is not just a financial instrument; it’s a tes­tament to our collective commitment to building a more inclusive, equi­table, and prosperous Pittsburgh where every­one can have a place to call home and thrive,” read an excerpt from the Bond Spending Plan, ac­quired by the Courier on April 7.


Not surprisingly, May­or Gainey was blunt in speaking to the Courier. Even before he became mayor, then-state Rep. Ed Gainey knew all-too-well about the afford­able housing crisis. In May 2016, while he was a state representative for a district that in­cluded East Liberty, the city’s Affordable Hous­ing Task Force reported “a defined affordabili­ty gap” of 17,241 units for households earning up to 50 percent of the city’s median household income.

Thus, the Pittsburgh Black population is on the decline, while the Black population is on the incline in places like McKees Rocks, Stowe Township, Penn Hills, Bellevue, etc. Pitts­burgh’s Black popula­tion, once upwards of 28 percent in 2000, is now under 23 percent.

“Everything was mar­ket-rate, market-rate, market-rate,” Mayor Gainey told the Couri­er about the apartment building boom that hap­pened in the East Lib­ertys of the city in the past 10 years. “Yes, it grew a tax base but at the end of the day, it shrunk population.”

A realist, Mayor Gain­ey said he’s not asking every developer to make their apartment build­ings all “affordable.” “We’re not saying give us all affordable hous­ing,” the mayor said. “Just give me 15 percent of what it is you want to do and we can make a deal.”

Mayor Gainey told the Courier that afford­able housing “stabiliz­es neighborhoods,” just like jobs. “We know that technology is very big in this city now. We’re talking to the technol­ogy community about how we continue to see the advancement of that and how we diversify that in a way that ev­erybody feels they have an opportunity to thrive here. That’s how you be­gin to grow population.”

The mayor also pointed to how affordable hous­ing is being preserved in the Hill District with a major investment into Bedford Dwellings, the sprawling housing com­plex on Bedford Ave­nue. Mayor Gainey said a $50 million federal grant was the final piece the city and the URA needed to make it hap­pen. Eventually, each housing unit at Bed­ford Dwellings will be replaced and hundreds of new units will be cre­ated. Part of that rein­vestment will include the creation of a sev­en-story building called “City’s Edge,” where the vast majority of the 110 units would be marked for those making up to 60 percent of the AMI. Pittsburgh City Coun­cil President R. Daniel Lavelle estimated the entire revitalization would take six years.

Between Mayor Gainey, his staff and other elect­ed officials and stake­holders, they know how important it is to fix the affordable housing cri­sis in Pittsburgh. There are a number of Down­town building owners who are struggling with keeping the lights on with business contracts, so they’re turning their buildings into housing spaces. The mayor, Al­legheny County Exec­utive Sara Innamorato and others are working to make sure a good number of those Down­town housing units are classified as affordable. The mayor’s communi­cations director, Maria Montano, said the city is working with Visit­Pittsburgh on a market­ing strategy “to target residents who have left home (Pittsburgh) and to reintroduce them to the city and say, ‘come back home.'”

Mayor Gainey spokes­person Olga George add­ed: “Pittsburgh is home. Those who have left, we want you to come back home and see the value that is here. The city is leading. The city is say­ing, ‘hey, there are jobs here,’ and there’s jobs within the city as well, so you can make this home.”

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.