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Tool To Create Affordable Housing Wins Preliminary Approval From Pittsburgh City Council

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

At a regular committee meeting on Wednesday, members of Pittsburgh City Council positively recommended that inclusionary zoning, a tool to create affordable housing, become a permanent part of Lawrenceville.

Inclusionary zoning, or IZ, has been in effect in Lawrenceville since 2019, when council approved a pilot of the initiative. New construction or rehabilitation of 20 units or more must make 10% of the apartments or homes affordable to people who learn less than the area median income. During the almost two-year test, the regulation has created 40 units of affordable housing. Council’s action on Wednesday set the table for a final vote next week.

It took years of community advocacy to create the temporary zoning regulation, said Councilor Deb Gross, who represents the neighborhood.

“This is exactly what Lawrenceville wanted for itself … They had already lost affordable units and this was a chance to gain them back,” she said. They’re “very much looking forward to it becoming a permanent part of their zoning.”

Gross added that several neighborhoods, including Bloomfield and Polish Hill, wanted to be included in the IZ pilot but were not. During a public hearing last week many residents and community leaders urged council to extend the zoning law to the rest of the city.

Councilor Daniel Lavelle asked how the 20-unit threshold was decided, noting that it may not be the right level for Polish Hill or other neighborhoods. Andrew Dash, who directs the Department of City Planning, didn’t address that concern directly but said staff drew from research as well as meetings with the greater Lawrenceville community to arrive at the guidelines.

“If council decides to make [IZ] permanent then [it] obviously can be applied in other neighborhoods through a zoning map change.”

A 2017 study of IZ in Pittsburgh suggested the regulation can be tailored to the realities of different communities.

“We’ll be having some additional conversations regarding my district and doing something similar,” Lavelle said.

The Lower Hill, which is part of Lavelle’s district, is slated to see significant development in coming years. The first project planned for the 28-acre site,the First National Bank tower, goes before the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority for a vote this week.

That project does not include any residential development, but the larger plan for the land includes more than a thousand units of housing. It remains unclear how many of those will be affordable, and at what level.