7218 Susquehanna St. in Homewood is a property currently undergoing renovations by the URA. The URA website lists properties that qualify for its assistance programs. Photo courtesy of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh’s (URA) OwnPGH homebuyer assistance program is ramping up its participation efforts.

Since OwnPGH’s January 2023 launch, the program has closed on about 50 homes and spent about $700,000 of its $15 million American Rescue Plan Act funding, which must be spent by the end of 2026, Director of Housing Lending Evan Miller said at the Redevelopment Authority’s regular board meeting Oct. 12.

In a subsequent interview, Miller said the URA has been happy with the response rate but is looking to speed up parts of the process. By 2026, he hopes OwnPGH will have assisted “several hundred homeowners.”

“We’ve started to onboard some additional banks as well as to help spread the reach of the program,” Miller said. “Internally, the URA is working on our ability to administer the program quickly, and get dollars out the door and on the street in an effective manner.”

At the board meeting, Miller presented a host of proposed expansions to the program aimed at increasing its users.

The first modification Miller presented was allocating a portion of OwnPGH’s funding for nonprofit developers to construct affordable units.

“Just for instance — very round numbers here — if it costs a nonprofit community development corporation $300,000 to acquire and rehab a home, but the affordable first mortgage that someone can afford is $160,000, that would mean that there’s a $140,000 gap so to speak in there,” Miller said in an interview following the meeting.

“No development group could sustain that if they spent $300,000 and lost $140,000 of it as they exited the project. So the idea here is that to help finance the construction of it, the URA could provide some amount of funding to help close that gap.”

Miller added that the URA currently does not have an idea of what the funding maximum for a project like this would look like, and that the parameters for construction financing projects were still being finalized.

OwnPGH is currently available only to first-time homebuyers — which URA defines as someone who has not owned a home in the past three years — who make less than 80% of the area median income. In 2023, 80% AMI for a family of four in Allegheny County is $80,300.

The second proposed adjustment would allow any income-eligible homebuyer — not just first-time — to utilize OwnPGH. This change targets current homeowners earning below the area median income who want to move due to a change in the size of their family, for instance, Miller said.

The last change would increase the URA’s contribution from $50,000 to $90,000 per homebuyer. Currently, the full $90,000 consists of a $50,000 URA grant and an additional $40,000 second mortgage through the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, which would be forgiven in full if the home is not resold within a decade of receiving the second mortgage.

“This doesn’t increase the overall $90,000 cap per homebuyer. It is really just in anticipation of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh maybe not having the funding to contribute in terms of how we’re currently operating,” Miller said. “Should the housing authority not be able to keep pace with the spending of OwnPGH and the inflow of buyers, we want to make sure there’s no interruption of services and that we’re able to continue assisting homebuyers.”

Manager of Consumer Lending Derek Kendall-Morris talks through the OwnPGH program with potential homeowners at the Hill District branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Photo by Roman Hladio.

At an Oct. 24 OwnPGH Office Hours event at the Hill District branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Chief Housing Officer Quianna Wasler said it was to be determined whether an additional $40,000 contribution from the URA would operate as a second mortgage or a grant like the URA’s initial $50,000 contribution.

Also, Miller announced that four more banks are in the process of being approved to work with OwnPGH. Currently, the program has only three partner banks: First Commonwealth Bank, SSB Bank and Dollar Bank. The URA elected not to name the potential additions ahead of their official acceptance into the program.

At the Oct. 24 event, Derek Kendall-Morris, URA manager of consumer lending, called OwnPGH “the best-kept secret of the URA.”

Kendall-Morris wants OwnPGH to allow people to purchase homes that fit their housing needs and enable them to pass their homes down generationally.

“You’re not buying a house that’s too small because that’s what you can afford — you’re buying a house that is actually big enough for you and your family,” Kendall-Morris said. “Maybe you might be able to buy that house in a neighborhood that you maybe think you couldn’t afford, but because of our assistance, now you can.”

Although the program’s federal funding is up after 2026, Miller said URA is already pursuing other opportunities to keep OwnPGH active into the future.

Wasler said the expanded program would most likely go to vote before the URA board by the end of the year.

“We’re very dedicated and committed to getting folks in homes,” Wasler said.

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.