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Proposed Pittsburgh legislation would allow building small, attached homes

City councilman Bobby Wilson proposes a new bill to reduce zoning barriers for building attached homes outside council chambers on Tuesday.
Erin Yudt
90.5 WESA
City councilman Bobby Wilson proposes a new bill to reduce zoning barriers for building attached homes outside council chambers on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Bobby Wilson introduced new legislation on Tuesday that could reduce zoning burdens on proposals for attached homes.

Attached homes, also called townhouses, are homes that often share a wall and are typically designed as a row of houses.

The bill would allow contractors to build attached homes citywide on lots that are 35 square feet wide or smaller, including neighborhoods of Allegheny Center, Allegheny City Central, Allegheny West, Brighton Heights, East Allegheny, Fineview, Northview Heights, Observatory Hill, Spring Garden, Spring Hill- City View, the Strip District, Summer Hill and Troy Hill and Washington Landing.

Wilson said this bill is a stepping stone for making housing more affordable.

“If we're going to build more affordable housing, more dense housing and more attached housing, whether in five years or across the city of Pittsburgh, we cannot let the zoning code block us in this manner,” Wilson said. “That is why I'm introducing this bill today, to prevent such cases from repeating across the city, and to make it easier to build affordable, dense and attached homes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family detached housing.”

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Councilor Erika Straussburger, who is a co-sponsor on this legislation, said that amending zoning codes is one of the things city council has most control over.

“I've been doing this work long enough to know that nothing gets eyes wandering faster than zoning, but I also want to acknowledge that this is one of the most important issues that we, as council members, have power over our budget and the power over zoning,” Straussburger said. “If we want to create a city where people earning all different types of wages and coming from all different backgrounds can afford to live in, then zoning is one of the ways that we can tackle this.”

Fineview and Perry Hilltop Citizens Council executive director Rhonda Strozier said the neighborhoods partnered in 2016 to work on similar efforts for affordable housing.

“Neighbors are facing displacement due to raising rents, unsafe conditions and many other predatory practices; it's important for us to stand together in face of gentrification and a lack of housing stock that are major threats to communities like ours as well,” Strozier said. “That is why updates to the zoning code…are so critical to us. We know that folks need homes now. Our organizations remain committed to increasing affordable housing stock, not just for homebuyers, but for renters as well.”

Fineview Citizens Council vice president Jon Hanrahan said he was “glad” to attend the press conference announcing the newly proposed bill but that the topic surrounding it is “silly.”

“In a city neighborhood like Fineview, should houses be allowed to touch each other? And for two years, that's what we've been talking about,” Hanrahan said. “I'm so glad that we're going to resolve this question today. But as you all know, that's just the silliest, easiest question in the larger, broader picture of affordable housing, housing justice, environmental justice in the context of a city in the context of a climate crisis. We have much bigger fish to fry here, so I'm glad we're getting this done.”

City of Bridges Community Land Trust executive director Ed Nusser said that since 2019, the median home price has increased by 25%.

“Today's communities can't be built on yesterday's zoning; the legislation that is being introduced today is a key first step to write and modernize our zoning code,’ Nusser said. “This legislation will allow for a new flexibility for community-supported projects to advance quickly into construction.”

The proposal will be reviewed by the city's planning commission before council votes on it.

Updated: January 24, 2024 at 1:33 PM EST
This story was updated to clarify that the bill would apply to entire city, not just District 1.
Erin Yudt is an intern newsroom production assistant and senior at Point Park University majoring in journalism and minoring in psychology. She’s originally from Sharpsville, about an hour north of the ‘Burgh. Erin is the current editor-in-chief of Point Park’s student-run newspaper The Globe, an apprentice for the Point Park News Service and news director for the student-run radio station WPPJ. She has interned for PublicSource, Trib Total Media and The Sharon Herald.