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After years of discussion, inclusionary zoning seems set to expand

90.5 WESA
Sixty percent of people who live in Bloomfield rent their homes, and almost half of them pay more than what's deemed "affordable" by the federal government. If council approves, the neighborhood could see some relief through inclusionary zoning.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Planning Commission unanimously approved the expansion of a tool to create affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning, as the policy is called, requires developments of 20 or more units to set aside 10 percent of housing for people of low or modest incomes.

The program is already being used in Lawrenceville, and the neighborhoods of Bloomfield and Polish Hill have sought to be included in the zoning district for the past four years, said City Councilor Deb Gross, who introduced legislation in July to do so.

Gross said an increasingly hot housing market, coupled with the notoriously slow process of building affordable housing with public dollars, threatens the character of the two neighborhoods.

“If we continue at this pace, these neighborhoods will never be able to maintain the level of affordability that they want for themselves,” she said. “They are getting overwhelmed by the speed, by the capacity, and by the financing of the private market.

Rental costs in Pittsburgh increased by nearly 14 percent in 2021, according to a recent analysisfrom Apartment List, a website that aggregates rental listings. The Department of City Planning compiled data that found that nearly 40 percent of residents in Polish Hill and Bloomfield pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent — a threshold the federal government defines as “cost-burdened.”

During a brief public comment period prior to the commission’s vote, all of the speakers asked for the inclusionary zoning district to be expanded. They noted that it’s a proven tool to keep neighborhoods available to all, particularly in walkable, amenity-rich communities such as Bloomfield and Polish Hill.

“Locating new, quality, affordable units in neighborhoods like Bloomfield is essential to allow low-income renters or homeowners to access the same opportunities as everyone else,” said Sam Spearing, housing and mobility coordinator for the Bloomfield Development Corporation.

Christina Howell, BDC’s executive director, noted that pending legislation was enough to encourage the developer of the former ShurSave site to commit to making 10 percent of a planned 200 residential units affordable.

The leaders of both the Lawrenceville Corporation and Lawrenceville United also supported the expansion of inclusionary zoning.

“We recognize that the need for affordable housing knows no neighborhood boundaries,” said Lauren Connelly of LC.

Having consistent policies across neighborhoods “makes it very transparent and clear to developers how to oblige these requirements,” said Dave Breingan of LU.

Mayor Ed Gainey campaigned last year on a promise to expand the zoning tool. He said in a statement Tuesday that he supports the expansion of the inclusionary zoning district, but called it “only the beginning.” He committed his administration to pursuing a citywide inclusionary policy, one that increases the percentage of new units that must be affordable.

That policy will be structured “to ensure that it fits the needs of every neighborhood to create high opportunity communities across our city, with quality housing options,” said Gainey.

The Bloomfield and Polish Hill expansion now heads back to City Council.