EdBoard: in support of a pro-housing policy in Pittsburgh

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We here at The Tartan Edboard staff agree with the statement from Bobby Lincoln, the Chair of State and Local Affairs of the GSA, regarding Mayor Gainey's comprehensive zoning review. This is the first comprehensive review of Pittsburgh zoning since 1999, meaning this is a critical moment to push for a housing plan that prioritizes multi-family developments near Pittsburgh's universities.

Pittsburgh's college-student population isn't going anywhere, and although Mayor Gainey's administration may wish to attract families that build roots in their communities, we nonetheless need a housing plan that addresses the need for student housing.

When students lack the option to buy housing close to campus, they are driven to rent single-family homes in adjacent neighborhoods. This not only increases the price of homes in the city, but increases the number of people taking the bus and driving cars, overloading the already-packed 61 and 71 lines. If instead the city focuses on densifying Oakland and other areas adjacent to campus, there will be a greater number of students within walking and biking distance from campus. Furthermore, foot traffic is better for local businesses, and reduces the number of cars on the road. Oakland can serve as a model for how a neighborhood can densify, improve the pedestrian experience, and flexibly support a highly transient student population.

Removing barriers for multi-unit developments can also permit a more uniform densification of neighborhoods. For example, large portions of Shadyside and North Oakland are zoned as "very low" or "moderate" density residential — so when a developer gets approval to build high-density housing, they are incentivized to generate the most revenue on the smallest possible plot. This is how you get developments like One on Centre, a mid-rise apartment building located immediately next to low-density detached homes. This lack of medium-density housing is part of a larger phenomenon called the "missing middle", and is a pattern in many American cities.

Furthermore, Carnegie Mellon's international students may benefit from living in large, corporately-run multi-unit properties. These businesses have better communication infrastructure for tenants, who otherwise might find it more difficult to seek redress with an individual landlord.

Much of South Oakland is seeing the consequences of what happens when a neighborhood of predominantly single-family homes is occupied by students. These homes are often illegally rented by students who don't know their rights, and owned by landlords who have no interest in investing money in upkeep. The result is dangerous, crumbling homes that go years without inspection (and even when they are hit with violations, there are often too few regulations to enforce building codes).

Recently, Majora Carter delivered Carnegie Mellon's Martin Luther King, Jr. Keynote where she emphasized how development can be positive for a community. Density and development is not necessarily gentrification, and in fact it can have the opposite effect — development can, when done right, lower rent costs in a city. Take how Minneapolis abolished exclusive single-family zoning to incentivize the development of multi-family housing units. As a result, Minneapolis has some of the highest rates of home ownership for low-income families.

Because houses are in such high demand, a lot of single-family homes (particularly those on Beeler) are passed down from one group to another — often associated with a particular club or organization. There is a clear demand for off-campus student housing. Furthermore, thanks to a slew of economic and supply-chain issues and the increased use of rent-pricing software, housing prices are soaring across the country.

It is imperative that Pittsburgh adopt a pro-housing policy in this upcoming comprehensive review, as we need affordable housing for both students and families. It would be better for these campus-adjacent neighborhoods, and better for the city as a whole, if Pittsburgh's student population had access to more housing nearer their university.