Health and housing are interconnected and people’s living situations can easily increase stress and worsen existing health conditions. But it’s not enough to just create affordable housing, it also has to be located in communities with access to resources like transportation, parks and fresh food, where people can thrive. 

A new tool to fund affordable housing in Pittsburgh is addressing this issue. UPMC Health Plan is investing capital in an Affordable Housing Loan Fund, administered by Bridgeway Capital, with additional support from The Kresge Foundation. All told, it is anticipated that 330 units will be created or preserved with the $7.9 million initial investment, which the partners see as a springboard to a larger fund that can magnify its impact across the city.

UPMC Health Plan spearheaded the development of the fund as part of its participation in Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities, an initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Center for Community Investment.

Working with local leaders and developers of affordable housing, the partners realized that new affordable housing units are often not created quickly enough in rapidly changing neighborhoods before people are displaced. When recognizing the link between stable housing and health, it’s impossible to overlook the mental, social and emotional effects of neighborhood displacement.

“We wanted to start with something that has the ability to give creative financing solutions, fill gaps and make projects go ahead quicker,” says Kevin Progar, project director at UPMC Health Plan. 

ACTION-Housing’s Stanton-Highland Apartments in Highland Park was supported by the fund and created 53 units of affordable housing, as well as providing support to young people who have aged out of the foster care system. Photo courtesy of ACTION-Housing, Inc.

Focusing on keeping existing units affordable and anticipating areas where the market is transforming means the fund can provide a flexible financing option to preserve existing affordable units before they are converted to market-rate units in neighborhoods with rapidly increasing rental costs.

“We use that short-term urgency to create long-term stability,” says Dawn Seckler, director of development for Bridgeway Capital. “Because many of these projects are distinct, funds like this can be flexible and respond to that, it helps to get these projects over the hump.”

As a Community Development Financial Institution, Bridgeway has an array of resources for both residential and commercial projects all over Western Pennsylvania. But the Affordable Housing Loan Fund was created to respond to the specific needs of Pittsburgh, and that is what allows it to help carry projects over the finish line. 

When the Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan was adopted by Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission in November 2019, it outlined a specific goal of preventing displacement through innovative, affordable and targeted housing. The Hazelwood Initiative has taken action by acquiring a portfolio of primarily occupied units to own and manage for permanent affordability as the neighborhood’s housing market changes.

“These are families that have lived here forever,” says Sonya Tilghman, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative. The three-phase Hazelwood Affordable Rental Preservation Program will result in 63 affordable housing units being preserved in the neighborhood. It is anticipated the Affordable Housing Loan Fund will help to enact the final phase of the project.   

“Definitively, without Bridgeway’s investment, we couldn’t have gotten these deals done,” says Tilghman.

Maya Haptas

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.