Commission On Human Relations Hopes Interactive Map Will Help Address Housing Issues

Jul 30, 2019

Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations wants to be "proactive" in handling issues like housing discrimination, gentrification, evictions and displacement. 

A partnership with Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab would help that. 

Pittsburgh City Council approved $20,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Fund Tuesday. The money will go toward an interactive digital map that will display housing trends in Pittsburgh. Megan Stanley, the executive director of the commission, says the map is meant to help visualize multiple data sources that can pinpoint problems with housing access, including complaints of discrimniation, gentrification, and evictions.

"HUD has a fair housing map, but it's a lot of national data," Stanley said. "What we wanted to do was make a housing issue and data map that would be more local, more responsive, updated more regularly so we know in real time what the housing issues are, what we need to be looking at and be proactive about."

Anne Wright, director of operations for CMUs CREATE Lab, said researchers already have many of the data sources for the information the commission is looking for.

CMU's interactive map is called EarthTime. It's been used to help users visualize the earth's transformation over time, using images captured by NASA satellites between 1984 and 2016. The maps have been used to look at issues like climate change, but also to track social concerns like the global refugee crisis and gender pay gaps. Data for Pittsburgh's housing trends are pulled from sources that include Allegheny County records and the U.S. Census. 

"When you animate that you can see very interesting patterns in that, that are very relevant to what's going on with property and housing," Wright said. "It was always in there, but when you look at it as a spreadsheet, you couldn't tell it was in there. ... It allows you in a very fine-grain manner to explore what's going on." 

Wright said the map will give people access to tools that people "who only were trying to make a profit" have had access to. 

"They're able to bring together and show in these visualizations for this neighborhood in Pittsburgh,  or even this street, this is what we've seen overtime, this is who lives there or these are the problems that they've had," Stanley said giving examples of what could be looked at with these maps. "When we put all of the data together we get a sense of 'are there unfair housing practices going on here? Is this an area of gentrification, what sort of outreach should we be doing?'"

Stanley said the Commission is usually a reactive agent, responding to complaints that people bring in, but now she hopes they can use the information to address issues proactively, pinpointing specific neighborhoods where access to housing is at risk.

The maps would be available for the public to use.

*This story was updated at 12:58 p.m. to reflect that Pittsburgh City Council approved funding for the program.