Pittsburgh's new housing boom stays strong

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A boom in new housing in the city of Pittsburgh continued in 2012.

The city has been one of the highest producers of new housing in the six-county region in the past few years, according to Tall Timber Group, a Ross-based research firm that follows the construction industry.

More than a decade ago, new housing in the city was stagnant until construction in 2001 of the 700-unit Summerset at Frick Park development in Squirrel Hill, which required a lottery drawing to settle who could buy homes first from a list of 400.

In 2012, Pittsburgh finished second to Cranberry Township in Butler County in the number of new housing permits issued. In the prior year the two switched positions with the city in the lead.

Last year, the city produced 281 units, second to Cranberry, which had 346 units, said Jeff Burd of Tall Timber Group on Thursday.

The city led all local municipalities in 2011 with 499 units, and Cranberry was second at 189.

“Areas of the city between Downtown and East Liberty are attracting new housing construction. Not only are areas such as the Summerset at Frick Park and East Liberty attracting homebuilders, but less publicized areas such as Lawrenceville are becoming hot sites for new housing,” Burd said.

Yarone S. Zober, chairman of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, said new housing has been brought into neighborhoods such as the Hill District and Homewood, and many neighborhoods offer new housing through such tax incentive programs as the city's 10-year tax abatement program.

For new condominium units built Downtown, the abatement exempts the first $250,000 of the assessed valuation.

“There are 2,100 new housing units in the pipeline alone for the Greater Downtown area, and many of these units are new construction, such as the housing proposed by the Buncher Co. in the Strip District,” said Jeremy Waldrup, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Jeff Martin, president of Primrose Homes Inc. and head of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, said: “Builders in the region are more encouraged about the market today than they've been in the past four years.”

“The city's positive atmosphere towards development has attracted both young and older individuals to the city, which has created the need for new housing,” said Larry Swanson, executive director of Action-Housing Inc., a nonprofit the promotes new housing and helps low-income residents with mortgage-related financial trouble.

That, coupled with a pent-up demand by many renters, who were unable to purchase a home during the recent recession years, has helped drive construction of housing in the city, he said.

And a third reason for the spurt in new housing construction is the changing preference pattern that has made city living more attractive for both young people and older adults who don't want the long commute from the suburbs to their Downtown jobs, he said.

Overall, 3,579 new housing units were issued last year for the six-county region, a 24.6 percent increase over the 2,872 in 2011, Tall Timber said in its report on Friday. Included are Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“New housing construction finally broke out of the doldrums in 2012,” said Burd, who is predicting permits in 2013 will exceed 4,000 units for the first time since 2007.

New construction of both single-family and multifamily housing increased last year for the first time since 2005, he said.

Permits for single-family homes rose 15.9 percent, reaching 1,936 last year compared with 1,670 in 2011. Multifamily units totaled 1,643, a 36.7 percent increase over 1,202 in 2011.

Cranberry had 83 single-family housing permits and permits for 263 multifamily units last year while Pittsburgh had 76 single-family and 205 multifamily units.

On a county basis, Allegheny County had the most new starts with 1,771 units, followed by Butler County with 596. Westmoreland County was third with 460.

The Builders Association's Martin said there are sufficient lots available for new housing to meet the current demand and the market is ripe for additional housing starts.

Unless banks become more lenient in lending for new housing, particularly for units that are not under contract, there's a possibility of a shortage of inventory, said Jim Eichenlaub, BAMP's executive director.

Sam Spatter is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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