Solving Pittsburgh’s Affordable Rental Housing Burden

Project Values


Build long term trust The legacies of redlining, urban renewal, and mismanagement have lead to a contentious relationship between citizens, the government, and local community groups. 


Set Clear PrioritiesActive civic leadership has resulted in a large number of innovative pilot and test programs covering many aspects of affordable housing creation. However, these programs need to be prioritized and scaled up order to begin to make a real impact. 


Utilize Existing Assets The prodigious vacancy and blight is an opportunity for Pittsburgh to invest in its future. Leveraging these resources will serve the community and planet in profound ways.


Empower Community Actors
Pittsburgh’s residents are its greatest asset, and many local developers and community based organizations are ready to take aggressive and innovative action on housing if given sufficient support and resources. Let’s give them the tools they need.


Housing Geography

Pittsburgh’s vacancy and blight pose a unique challenge. While these properties have proven tough to rehabiliate and get back on the market, they should not be undervalued as an resource to encourage growth that is inclusive and sustainable.

︎ ~27,000

Distressed parcels within the city

︎ ~10,000

Unoccupied structures within the city

$ ~56 million

Estimated total tax delinquency (including unoccupied and occupied land)

Geography of Housing & Vacancy


Housing Need

Pittsburgh’s population is almost evenly split between renters and owners. The majority of Pittsburgh’s rent-burdened households are young, single-person households, and nearly 80% are earning less than $30,000.  Eliminating burden via a rental subsidy alone would cost roughly

$199 million annually.

Student renters make up roughly 30% of burdened renter households. Removing student renters from the data, the following trends hold true:


households are rent-burdened


non-student households are rent-burdened

Besides slightly altering age distribution, the largest change when removing students from rent burden data is that it reveals the severity of the problem for Black households, who make up 41% of burdened non-student renter households (vs. 31% of all burdened renter households and 23% of the overall population)

renters are cost burdened.  21% are severely burdened.

burdened renters are under 35.  Over 65s are the second largest group at 20%.

burdened renters are
single-person households.

burdened renters earn less than $30,000 per year.


What We Heard


We Cannot Build
Our Way Out...

While vacant land and blight is a major issue, economic inequality is key to really evening the landscape of affordable housing; especially in a city with such a large rental vacany rate, affordable housing is not solely a supply issue.


But the Cost to Build
is Still too High

Approvals processes remain burdensome. Utility hookups are very costly. Nonprofits struggle to utilize loan financing because banks’ appraisals are conservative (leading to an appraisal gap).


Racial Housing Disparities
are Enormous

Black applicants are more than twice as likely to be denied a mortgage in Pittsburgh as white buyers.  The legacies of redlining and urban renewal persist in housing segregation and quality.  And the city’s own report, “Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race,” shows that African American women and men are struggling. 


Preservation of Existing
Affordability is Key

Units whose affordability is sunsetting need to be tracked, and resources must be allocated to keep them affordable. Likewise, naturally occuring affordable housing should be supported. Maintaining these assets is just as important as creating new units.


Housing Quality is
Important to Consider

The quality of low-cost housing is often subpar and is not captured by simple cost burden data.


Local Anchor Institutions
Must Play a Larger Role

Pittsburgh’s anchor institutions, including hospitals, foundations, and universities, are strong. But the city, non-profits, and community groups all vie for limited grant resources. Many people expressed a need for alternative, collaborative ways of leveraging these anchors.


There is a Trust Gap

In interviews with people in both the public and private sectors, we heard that the City and the URA has more work to do in building trust with communities. This should be addressed through community empowerment and sustained collaboration.


We Should Get the
Land Bank Online

The Land Bank emerged in nearly all of our conversations as both a potentially transformative tool and a point of frustration given the long period of relative inactivity since its formation.