City Council signals support of inclusionary zoning after Lawrenceville residents push for its passage at hearing

One development in the pipeline could be the first to adhere to the new housing requirements.

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Darrell Kinsel, community engagement and program manager for Lawrenceville United, speaks in favor of inclusionary zoning at a Pittsburgh City Council hearing on Tuesday. Standing alongside Kinsel is Celeste Scott, housing and justice organizer for Pittsburgh United. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Darrell Kinsel, community engagement and program manager for Lawrenceville United, speaks in favor of inclusionary zoning at a Pittsburgh City Council hearing on Tuesday. Standing alongside Kinsel is Celeste Scott, housing and justice organizer for Pittsburgh United. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

The Lawrenceville inclusionary zoning ordinance, introduced in February by Councilwoman Deb Gross, could pass the Pittsburgh City Council as early as July 23.

Following public comments at a hearing on the proposal, Council members Theresa Kail-Smith, Anthony Coghill, Bruce Kraus and Erika Strassburger all expressed support of the measure that would require a share of below-market rate housing to be part of new housing developments with 20 units or more. Aides to R. Daniel Lavelle, Rev. Ricky Burgess and Corey O’Connor told PublicSource after the hearing their bosses will vote for the ordinance as well.

“Much of what I heard today was the same sort of fight that brought me here to council, that I was fighting 20 years ago,” said Kraus, whose district includes much of the South Side and parts of Oakland. “It was protect the integrity and the sweat equity of generations of homesteaders that made that piece of real estate ripe for development.”

Kail-Smith and Coghill said they support the measure for Lawrenceville, but don’t believe the measure would help their districts because they are still trying to attract development there.

“Though It seems once it starts happening, it snowballs so quickly,” Kail-Smith said.

During the Planning Commission’s review of the proposal four months ago, city planners called it a pilot to test how effective it would be to require developers of large residential projects to include units to be rented below market rates. The commission unanimously recommended the ordinance.

Gross’ plans to bring the legislation to a committee vote next week came after Lawrenceville residents in support of the measure and affordable housing advocates dominated the public comment portion of a Tuesday City Council hearing on the legislation. A similar-sized mobilization of more than two dozen proponents attended the Planning Commission review.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris said she had not yet read over the legislation but will likely vote in favor of it.

“It sounds like the people spoke,” Harris said after the hearing.

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, has said in the past that the mayor supports the measure.

The ordinance would create new requirements for developers in Lawrenceville working on projects with 20 housing units or more. They would need to reserve at least 10% of new or substantially rehabilitated units for renters who make no more than 50% of the area median income [AMI]. AMI for Allegheny County is $79,900, as determined by HUD.

The proposal would also allow for deed restrictions on single-family homes to ensure that a home previously occupied by a moderate-income family will be sold at a below-market price to another moderate-income family.

Below-market rental units and owner-occupied homes would remain income-restricted for at least 35 years, according to the ordinance.

Brandon Mendoza, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of NAIOP, an advocacy group representing developers and investors of commercial real estate, was the lone voice Tuesday against the measure. He argued that the ordinance would make it cost prohibitive for developers to build in Lawrenceville and local tax incentives would be a better way to draw the construction of new below-market housing units.

“There are better ways to create affordable units than this policy,” Mendoza said.

Indianapolis-based developer Milhaus has already pledged to community groups and residents in Lawrenceville that the company will follow the inclusionary zoning requirements in its Phase II development of luxury apartment complex Arsenal 201, according to Dave Breingan, executive director at Lawrenceville United.

That development would create 35 below-market rate units for households at or below 50% AMI, Breingan said.

In practical terms, the proposed zoning change is already in effect, Gross said. Under city code, when a council member introduces a zoning amendment, it is enforceable once the legislation is sent to the Planning Commission for recommendation, she said.

“Anyone that was moving forward in the development process has already had to comport in their respective plans,” she said.

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross (right) listens to public comment during a Tuesday hearing on inclusionary zoning in Lawrenceville. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross (right) listens to public comment during a Tuesday hearing on inclusionary zoning in Lawrenceville. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Gross said there is a developer interested in voluntarily adhering to the ordinance’s stipulations on below-market housing units in the Strip District, a neighborhood not covered by the proposal. The councilwoman declined to name the developer without permission.

While the inclusionary zoning ordinance would be a big victory for advocates in Lawrenceville, proponents are quick to say it is not a panacea to the neighborhood’s affordable housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing Task Force, established in 2014 to investigate possible solutions for a decline in affordable housing, produced in 2016 several recommendations to council and Peduto, including an ordinance code change that would require inclusionary zoning for the entire city.

The ordinance only applies to Lawrenceville and would be on the books for 18 months. Council could then decide on a six-month renewal. Strassburger said residents have similar affordability concerns in her district, which includes Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.

“I’m watching this closely to see if we can apply [it] in some way or another, in addition to other policies, to the neighborhoods that I represent,” Strassburger said.

Tom Lisi is PublicSource's Develop PGH reporter. You can reach him at 412-368-6480 or by email at tom@publicsource.org.

Develop PGH has been made possible with funding from The Heinz Endowments.

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