Report recommends zoning policy that would mandate more affordable housing in Pittsburgh

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A new report says Pittsburgh’s housing market is strong enough to support citywide inclusive zoning — a policy requiring developers of new housing to set aside a portion of units as affordable housing.

The report comes as legislation is before the Pittsburgh City Council that would expand the city’s existing inclusive zoning district in Lawrenceville to include two additional neighborhoods, Polish Hill and Bloomfield; the legislation was approved by the city’s planning commission earlier this month.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, who took office in early January, has previously expressed support for citywide inclusive zoning.

Some city council members have said in the past that they weren’t sure if the concept would work outside of the city’s hottest real estate markets.

The report is written by Bob Damewood, a senior attorney with Regional Housing Legal Services, and is an update to an earlier report from 2015.

The analysis notes that the city’s housing market has grown significantly in recent years, with new housing and higher rental and housing prices. The city saw 7,750 new multi-family rental units built from 2010 to 2019, “roughly equal to the number of units built in the previous three decades,” he notes.

He cites “dramatic” increases in housing prices in several areas of the city – a 55% increase in Beechview and 98% in Garfield between 2018 and 2020, for example.

At the same time, the city has lost more than 10,000 black residents since 2011, “and the city’s affordable housing continues to be concentrated in areas that have underperforming schools and few economic opportunities,” notes the document.

Inclusive zoning ties the creation of affordable housing to new market-priced housing and thus aims to create new affordable housing in neighborhoods with more amenities such as access to transportation and good schools, says Damewood.

“If Pittsburgh is to maintain its diverse and vibrant city life, we must ensure that new housing is accessible to people of all income levels. One way to achieve this is to use inclusionary zoning (ZI),” he writes. “IZ’s main objectives are to expand the supply of affordable housing and to promote social and economic integration. By tying affordable housing to market rate housing development, IZ laws leverage the private market to help achieve these goals.

The city adopted inclusive zoning in one neighborhood, Lawrenceville, several years ago. The report attributes this to the creation of 40 affordable housing units which will soon be available as part of larger market rate developments: Arsenal 201 phase 2 (a 343 unit development which will have 35 affordable units) and Holy Family (a 45 units condo project of 5 affordable units).

The report also contains an analysis of how an inclusive citywide zoning policy could withstand any potential legal challenges. The city’s efforts to create more affordable housing have hit legal walls in the past; an effort to require all Pittsburgh landlords to accept subsidized housing vouchers was recently invalidated by the courts.

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