ShareThis Page

Rent, number of apartments on rise in W.Pa.

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Kathy DiLorenzo with her apartment building, The Encore, rear in Pittsburgh Saturday, April 13, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Kathy DiLorenzo with her apartment building, The Encore, rear in Pittsburgh Saturday, April 13, 2013.

When Kathy DiLorenzo decided to give up her home and become an apartment dweller, she found her housing costs didn‘t change drastically.

Rents for apartments in the Pittsburgh area have been on the rise, increasing faster than inflation, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday, and sparking a mini-boom in construction of multifamily complexes in the region.

Developers have been shifting their focus from single-family homes to capitalize on the demand and higher rents for apartments — although rents here are still cheap compared to other major metro areas.

DiLorenzo, 50, vice president of business development for Planet Depos, a court reporting company, moved into the Encore at 7th, Downtown, in 2011 after a divorce and her children left home. She also could keep her dog in her apartment.

While she made a conscious decision to rent, many apartment dwellers today have no choice. They are being forced to do so because banks have made it more difficult for consumers to get a mortgage to prevent a repeat of the huge loan losses that resulted from the housing crisis.

At the same time, the region has experienced a growth in high-paying seasonal jobs associated with the Marcellus shale development. The influx of gas-drilling workers from outside the state have added to the pressure on rentals.

Local apartment owners, such as Dave McSorley of Sterling Land Co., say rents over the past five years have increased an average of 3 percent to 6.5 percent for all bedroom units. He said a two-bedroom depending on room size, now rents for from $1,300 to $1,600.

“The Pittsburgh apartment market is characterized by high demand and strong fundamentals, with a growing employment base. All of these factors make Pittsburgh an attractive market for apartment developers,” said Mark H. Dambly, president of Pennrose, a Philadelphia based developer.

The boom in apartment construction in the region mirrors a national trend. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that apartment construction jumped nearly 31 percent in March from February to an annual rate of 417,000, the fastest pace since January 2006. By contrast, single-family home building fell 4.8 percent to an annual rate of 619,000.

There are at least six new apartments with close to 2,000 units either under construction or planned by out-of-town developers in the Pittsburgh region. And the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership says within the next decade, 2,400 apartment units are “in the pipeline” for the Greater Downtown area.

“Everyone is looking at Pittsburgh,” said Gregg Willett, vice president of research for Dallas-based M/PF Research which monitors the national apartment scene. “They like Pittsburgh for its consistency in having high occupancy levels as well as high rentals,” he said.

Bill Gatti, president of Trek Development Group, Downtown, said he's seen the demand for units increase steadily during the past three years. “The vacancy rate has always been low,” he said. “But the turnover rate has decreased and (lease) renewal rates have increased.”

Pennrose, Dambly's company, has teamed with Ralph A. Falbo Inc. of Pittsburgh to build the 131-unit Gateway at Summerset, opening this month at the Summerset at Frick Park in Squirrel Hill with rentals ranging from $1,350 to $2,015 for one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Kevin Keane, executive vice president of Lincoln Property Co., said the high end of the market has definitely tightened.

“We have always enjoyed 95-percent occupancy,” he said. “We are now at 98-percent-plus occupancy.”

The Dallas-based company owns apartments in Pittsburgh and the suburbs with rents ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 a month. All of the properties above $2,500 a month are rented out, Keane said.

This is a good time to build apartments in Pittsburgh because rental rates have exceeded $1,000 a month, and occupancy is good,” said Todd Palcic, who has a 27-unit apartment at 907-09 Penn Ave., Downtown, under construction.

The good news for Pittsburgh is that it has a comparatively affordable rental market compared to other major metro areas, said Chris Briem, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh.

The median rent in Pittsburgh in 2011 was $682 per month, according to census data, up from $643 in 2009.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or Trib Total Media staff writer Brian Bowling contributed to this report. He can be reached at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.