Regional Housing Legal Services Pittsburgh Office
The Pittsburgh office of RHLS opened in December, 1997. At that time, the Western Pennsylvania region was poised for an affordable housing crunch, with thousands of affordable units at risk of being lost through subsidy expiration, demolished or renovated in a way that the number of units available would be decreased.
Initially, nearly all efforts focused on organizational and legal support for tenant organizations seeking to impact restructuring and redevelopment decisions affecting their communities. Key successes during this time include helping to prevent the displacement of over 300 families in one scattered site affordable housing development by assisting a neighborhood group to convince HUD to extend the operating subsidies on 333 subsidized units.
RHLS also represented tenant groups in connection with two HOPE VI developments, one public housing, mixed-finance project and one redevelopment project involving three buildings and 519 units with an expiring Section 8 contract. RHLS’ representation in these cases enabled resident organizations to minimize or entirely avoid resident displacement, capture job opportunities, negotiate management policies, and build their organizational capacity to engage in activities that improve their residents’ quality of life.
When not dealing with the immediate crisis of helping to prevent the loss of affordable units in Western Pennsylvania, RHLS also worked to increase the number of community development organizations and to foster their further development. For example, RHLS has assisted in the formation of numerous tenant and community groups, helped them achieve 501(c)(3) status and assisted with board development activities.
The Pittsburgh office of RHLS has always been active in a variety of state-wide policy initiatives, taking the lead on several key initiatives–e.g., partnering with the Disability Law Project and Disability Agenda to craft a proposal to PHFA for a special initiative to support a Home Purchase Ombudsman Demonstration Program. This program has helped very low-income and extremely low-income people with disabilities access PHFA loan products to purchase homes in conjunction with the Section 8 Home Purchase Program.
In recent years, the RHLS Pittsburgh office has been increasingly involved with development. A recent success includes the realization of a comprehensive revitalization plan in a severely distressed neighborhood. Nearly all blighted properties in the neighborhood have been improved, most tax delinquent properties are placed back on the tax rolls, and 67 affordable homeownership opportunities have been generated . A new phase will also provide home repairs, energy efficiency upgrades and equity protection services (resolution of tax, title and related issues) for 40 owner-occupied homes. The net result of this work has been an increase in neighborhood homeownership rates, income and racial diversity, and neighborhood stability.
The Pittsburgh office of RHLS continues to expand its involvement in local development and to work to build local and state-wide alliances that will help its clients continue to build their capacities as well as taking initiative on critical policy issues of concern to Western Pennsylvanians.