Swartz also said inclusionary zoning as it’s structured in Lawrenceville would have little overall impact on Garfield because the policy only applies to larger developments.

“We don’t have projects being done on that scale,” Swartz said.

Inclusionary zoning is inherently geared toward “hot market” neighborhoods that are seeing rising prices, like Lawrenceville, and not neighborhoods that are struggling with blight and a lack of transit and amenities.

“It’s not going to solve our affordability crisis by itself,” said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, the acting director of Pittsburgh United. “It’s one of those tools in the toolbox, and it is certainly most helpful in places where market-rate development is happening.”

Right next door to Garfield, some Bloomfield residents had wanted the neighborhood to be part of the initial 2019 pilot program, Gross said. She said she has recently received “formal requests” from Bloomfield and Polish Hill to be included in inclusionary zoning.

Gross said that since the market has stayed hot and developers are looking at large parcels in nearby neighborhoods, “it’s time to really take seriously [Bloomfield’s] desire to be added into inclusionary zoning.”

Christina Howell, executive director of the Bloomfield Development Corporation, said in the June 2 council hearing that her organization wants to see the policy expanded “as quickly as possible.” She said that were inclusionary zoning rules in place, three housing developments under consideration in Bloomfield would produce 36 affordable units. She pointed to a 128-unit proposal for Melwood Avenue that, under current zoning, has no affordable units planned.

Some developers have a more cautious view of inclusionary zoning. Bill Gatti, CEO of Trek Development, said there would be “real economic headwinds” against any expansion. Trek often develops mixed-income housing under current zoning, including an East Liberty project that would include more than 30 affordable units.

“It could have the unintended consequence of really slowing down development in the city,” Gatti said. “So I think we just have to approach it with a really open mind.”

Andre Del Valle, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Apartment Association, spoke against the policy at the June 2 hearing. He described it as a tax on development and suggested that developers may pass the cost of the affordable units onto middle-income renters in other units.

The inclusionary zoning overlay area established as a pilot program in 2019. City Council voted to make it permanent in June 2021. Courtesy of the City of Pittsburgh.

A feasibility report that the city commissioned from the firm Grounded Solutions Network in 2017 indicated that a 10% affordable housing requirement was feasible citywide, with 15% feasible in certain places where the market is stronger.

Ed Nusser, the head of the City of Bridges Community Land Trust, gave a pointed response during the council hearing when a speaker voiced concerns about the policy’s effect on property values.

“This housing crisis that we face has been brought on by what many people would also call growth,” Nusser said. “So what is growth to one person can be displacement to hundreds and thousands of our neighbors.”

Gross said that it’s important to enact these policies not just in neighborhoods that have booming development but to protect neighborhoods before developers move in.

“Even in some of the neighborhoods that didn’t feel they had real estate pressure four years ago, I hear from them now that they’re starting to hear it now,” Gross said.

A tool for housing justice

Many view affordable housing policy as a key to a more equitable Pittsburgh, particularly for the city’s Black communities.

“As a Black person in this city, I’m just processing why a tool to create mixed-use housing hasn’t been approved yet,” said Amber Thompson, a Lawrenceville resident who spoke at the June 2 hearing. “This region has lost tens of thousands of Black people and we know that this is not sustainable if this city wants to continue to grow.”

Census data shows that the city’s Black population decreased by about 7,000 from 2009 to 2018, a 9% decrease in Black population and a higher rate of decline than the city at large. Housing advocates cite the statistics as a dire call to action to make Pittsburgh more affordable.

Marimba Milliones, president of the Hill District CDC, said there’s inadequate policy to prevent displacement of low and low-to-middle income residents, which disproportionately affects Black residents.

“I think the City Council has to sharpen their pencils and get down to the business of creating some legislation to protect Pittsburgh residents,” Milliones said.