You are here

Pittsburgh is experiencing explosive growth in upscale apartments, but new housing for low- to moderate-income residents remains a scarce commodity.

“Affordable housing has become very much in demand,” especially where rampant commercial and high-end residential development is driving up market values, said Eric Jester, president of New Burgh Real Estate in East Liberty.

Jester, a former project manager for nonprofit East Liberty Development Inc., wants to transform 89 largely rundown apartments into 140 new ones in the area of North Negley Avenue and Rural Street, near bustling Penn Avenue.

Jester said about 22 percent of the apartments would be for renters earning less than half Pittsburgh's area median income, now $65,600, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To get the $23 million project started, Jester is expected to seek tax-exempt bonds, low-income housing tax credits and possibly funding from Allegheny County and the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Plans show a dense design, in which nearly 110 market-rate apartments are needed to make the project financially viable.

National Low Income Housing Coalition data show that Pittsburgh rents remain far below the national average but soared in the past three years. In Pittsburgh, the average fair market value for a two-bedroom apartment is $789, up 14 percent from $693 in 2012. Nationally, the average is $984, up 3.6 percent from 2012.

“Rents are skyrocketing across the country, and almost all-new rental construction is on the high end and unaffordable for a lot of people,” said Megan Bolton, research director for the Washington-based coalition.

A $130 million Oxford Development project that broke ground this week in the Strip District will have 300 apartments, including studios and one- and two-bedroom units, with monthly rents ranging from $1,100 to $2,200. The rates are similar to those at other developments that recently opened or are planned in the South Side, the Strip, Downtown, East Liberty and elsewhere.

Developers and Hill District residents have been at odds over affordable housing planned in the $440 million redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site. Preliminarily, 20 percent of the 1,185 apartments would be for those earning less than the area's median income. The least expensive would cost about $600 a month for a one-bedroom unit.

Residents wanted at least 30 percent to be affordable, with some geared toward those earning as low as 30 percent of the median income.

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, D-Hill District, is drafting an ordinance that would require some developers to come up with “an affordable housing plan ... which demonstrates that commercially reasonable efforts have been made in order to provide a minimum of 30 percent of the on-site housing units as affordable.”

The rule would apply to projects in large, specially planned districts where public land is transferred to a private owner, or where developers receive public subsidies for building or infrastructure work. The arena site is one of the city's 11 special districts.

Lavelle, a URA board member, did not return a call for comment Friday.

“To be a vibrant city, you have to make sure quality housing options are available to people of all income levels,” said URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, who is Mayor Bill Peduto's chief of staff.

Acklin said the city is conducting an affordable housing study to identify where needs are the greatest.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or

For further details go to:



Date Published: 
Saturday, December 13, 2014 | 412-765-1820 |

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA