By Carl Redwood
In Pittsburgh there is an affordable housing crisis, which is most severely impacting families and households with very low and extremely low incomes. Black families are being forced out of the city in large numbers because of their lack of affordable housing options. Over the last four decades, politicians have promised a city that would be economically and racially diverse. But the administration policies of one Mayor after another has accelerated existing class and race-based inequities.
Some call Pittsburgh the most livable city in the United States, but it is also the place where Black people rank second from the bottom for economic opportunity, and the current policy of “redevelopment” is resulting in the forced migration of black people from Pittsburgh to the suburbs. Public housing complexes have been demolished, project-based Section 8 units are at risk of termination, and unemployment continues to skyrocket in many parts of the city. In 1980 there were 100,000 Black people in Pittsburgh, but in 2010 that number fell to 80,000 Black residents. What exactly happened?
Part of the explanation is in the removal of public housing opportunities. The Addison Terrace complex was demolished, displacing over 400 families. At St. Clair Village, 900 families lost their homes and at Arlington Heights, 31 buildings full of families were removed and the people who are forced out can’t find alternate affordable housing within city limits.
The City of Pittsburgh receives federal government funding through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and has a duty as a recipient of those funds to further fair housing choices.The City’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing obligation includes the duty to provide opportunities for inclusive patterns of housing occupancy regardless of race, and extends to all of the City’s housing activities.
Zoning and other land use laws also have a major influence on housing, as these regulations govern where housing can be built, the type of housing that is allowed, the form it takes and many other factors. Land use regulations can directly or indirectly affect the cost of developing housing, making it harder or easier to accommodate affordable housing. It is unusual that zoning ordinances
are written to openly discriminate, but in many cases, the unintended consequences of certain regulations are to limit housing choices, or otherwise reduce opportunities for fair and affordable housing.
According to a May 6, 2015 article published in the Post Gazette, there is a shortage of 21,000 homes in Pittsburgh that are affordable for families of four whose income is at $24,ooo, 30% of the areas median income for a family of that size.
There are two Pittsburghs: One receives huge subsidies to support high income luxury housing and private profits, while the other Pittsburgh is being forced out as the cost of living increases, and is forcing Black people and people with low incomes to the outskirts. The housing affordability and displacement crisis continues to spread through the City’s land use policy and is now impacting both low income and middle income residents, tenants and homeowners. With the bottom line result of ever increasing rents that become too damn high while suppressed wages become too damn low.
The struggle over controlling rents in the Lower Hill is just one battle in the larger fight to secure safe, decent and affordable homes for all families. And it’s not just happening here in Pittsburgh.
For more information visit www.homesforall.org.
Carl Redwood has worked on the issues of displacement for many years and is a member of the Hill District Consensus Group.