Letter to the Editor: Carnegie Mellon needs to support the tenants they displace

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Recently Carnegie Mellon University paid $17 million for the Fifth Neville apartment building at 4705 Fifth Avenue. This property is adjacent to the Yi Chung Kwan Korean grocery store and across from the Residence on Fifth. Carnegie Mellon made a good investment move that helps address their shortfall of units, but I have a few problems regarding this acquisition that should prompt concern from both Carnegie Mellon students and staff.

The Post-Gazette reports that everyone must move out after their lease is finished and thus buying out this building is an act of displacement. Moving out of an apartment is difficult, especially when tenants expect to live in the same residence. Now that tenants are told they cannot finish their lease, they have to deal with the stress of looking for a new home and, especially for lower-income tenants, the fear of homelessness.

Carnegie Mellon, as an institution and landlord, can alleviate the problems caused by displacement by offering support to tenants. Support can be any of the following: financial assistance, resources to find new housing, no penalty for early lease termination, and communicating with tenants during and after the lease to ensure everything proceeded smoothly. By offering support, Carnegie Mellon can be a leader in the city of Pittsburgh for what tenants can expect and how landlords should treat tenants when displacement happens. At the least, I would hope, and eventually come to expect, that landlords to offer the type of support mentioned and kudos to Carnegie Mellon if they are engaging in some of these good neighbor policies already.

Students at Carnegie Mellon should pay attention to the rent of the Fifth and Neville apartments after the university finishes renovating the buildings. Right now, the two single-bedroom apartments available in the building go for $1,300 a month. University housing rent tends to be slightly above market rate. If the rent increases, then that means more money for students and fewer market-rate apartments available for both students and for the people of Pittsburgh. As students who already spend an inordinate amount of money on tuition and housing, we should encourage our university to be frugal and efficient with our money.

I anticipate Carnegie Mellon will continue to buy out properties in the Oakland area to accommodate their housing need. I encourage students and staff to set a precedent and ask the university to support the people they displace and implement rent control measures to save students money. I plan to take my concerns stated in this op-ed to Housing Services, and I encourage the reader to do the same.

Daniel Sun is a Ph.D. student in Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.