Upper Lawrenceville, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from joseph a’s photostream

Pittsburgh has always been a patchwork of neighborhoods since the early days of industry and immigration. Neighborhoods like Polish Hill, Bloomfield, Brighton Heights, and the Hill became ethnic enclaves where new immigrants came to settle near relatives and strong cultural identities took hold. As industry and immigration have evolved and changed, neighborhoods across the city have changed with them. As neighborhoods like Lawrenceville, East Liberty, and the Central Northside are seeing development booms and many new residents moving in, we need to start thinking about how to preserve a diverse, mixed-income population in these neighborhoods and make sure that longtime residents are not priced out. As development spreads to other neighborhoods that haven’t seen it in many years, it will be critical to develop strategies to ensure that new housing is accessible to people of all income levels and that we are neither concentrating poverty nor concentrating wealth.

1. Building Diverse Neighborhoods

Cities and counties across the country have put in place zoning requirements and incentives to ensure that neighborhoods remain economically diverse even when they are experiencing building booms. Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, was the pioneer in this effort nearly 30 years ago. Since then, cities across the country have employed incentives and zoning changes to encourage or mandate that housing for low- and moderate-income people be included in market-rate housing developments. Most set a percent target (usually 10% or 15%) for housing priced for people making 50% or less than the area’s median income. So if a developer planned to build 100 housing units, 10 or 15 of those should be priced for lower-income people.

Developers are encouraged to do this through zoning and development incentives that could allow them to build more units or build a slightly taller building. Not only do these zoning tools promote more economically diverse neighborhoods, they also encourage greater density, which we should target for transit-rich areas. For most developers, the incentives provided are enough to defray the costs of providing below-market-rate housing. Coupled with financial incentives from the federal government that would allow our Housing Authority to purchase and manage some of the newly-constructed affordable units, these tools could be a good fit for some Pittsburgh neighborhoods seeing an increase in market-rate or high-end housing development.

One of the keys to a stronger Pittsburgh is diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods where new development benefits everyone. As mayor, I will work with City Council, the URA, and private developers to come up with zoning and development incentives that will provide housing opportunities for people of all income levels.