Pittsburgh Council considering bill requiring affordable housing in Lawrenceville | TribLIVE.com
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Pittsburgh Council considering bill requiring affordable housing in Lawrenceville

Bob Bauder
772206_web1_Deb-Gross
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross discusses legislation on Feb. 19, 2019, that would require developers to include affordable housing in any Lawrenceville project with 20 or more housing units.

Developers would have to make 10 percent of any residential project involving 20 or more homes in Lawrenceville affordable, according to a bill proposed Tuesday by Pittsburgh City Council.

Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park, who introduced the legislation, said it would create a zoning overlay district exclusive to Lawrenceville designed to offset the impact of gentrification in the rapidly growing neighborhood.

Under the proposal, units would have to be affordable to 10 percent of people earning at least 50 percent of Allegheny County’s area mean income, which is $38,000 for a family of four.

Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Task Force has estimated that the city has a shortage of more than 17,000 homes necessary for low-income residents, and city officials have struggled for years to address the problem.

“Five years ago, the median household price … in Lawrenceville was $100,000,” Gross said. “Five years later, that has increased to $250,000, more than double. Along with the home purchase prices goes also rents. We know that we’ve lost many, many residents of Lawrenceville to the increase in rent.”

The neighborhood during that period lost about 300 Somalian immigrants, 150 residents who owned homes for 30 years or more and many low-income residents, largely because of soaring housing costs, according to Dave Breingan, executive director of Lawrenceville United, a neighborhood advocacy group.

“Rapid shifts in our housing market have priced out many residents, particularly the residents who helped build this neighborhood and stand to benefit the most from the community’s improvements,” he said. “To be clear, we want to be a growing neighborhood, but we want to be a neighborhood that grows for everyone. This introduction of mandatory inclusionary housing is a huge step towards that goal.”

Council in 2016 pledged $10 million each year to a trust fund to create affordable housing and approved a 0.5 percent increase in the city’s realty transfer tax to help pay for it. Officials said part of the problem is financing. Banks have limits on how much they’re willing to loan for affordable housing, and developers often seek public subsidies to fill funding gaps.

Mark Minnerly, an independent developer, who previously served as director of real estate development for the Downtown-based Mosites Co., described himself as an inclusionary zoning advocate, but said the city must consider the economics of building affordable housing before finalizing the ordinance. He said the city should also seek input from all sides and consider language to address a rapidly evolving market that can change from one project to another.

“Affordable housing is often more costly to build than it’s worth in the marketplace,” he said. “I see this as one important piece in a puzzle. Having everyone at the table solving the economic barriers is what’s going to make this a successful process.”

Gross said council would table the bill next week and send it to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission for review and a recommendation. If the commission approves the overlay district, council would resurrect it for a vote.

Mayor Bill Peduto supports the legislation, according to spokesman Tim McNulty.

“This one tool in the toolbox — mandatory inclusionary zoning — works especially well where the market is overheated, and we know that market in the city of Pittsburgh is in Lawrenceville,” Gross said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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