Study says Pittsburgh is one of the 'least house-poor' cities in US, but housing issues still abound

Study says Pittsburgh is one of the 'least house-poor' cities in US, but housing issues still abound
click to enlarge Realty sign outside of a home in Morningside - CP PHOTO: AMANDA WALTZ

CP photo: Amanda Waltz

Realty sign outside of a home in Morningside

A lot of things look dire right now, but according to one study, the Pittsburgh housing and rental market isn't one of them.

The Zebra, an insurance comparison website, released a study declaring Pittsburgh as the “least house-poor” city in the Northeast region of the United States. An article on the findings defines “house-poor” as a descriptive for “a homeowner or renter who spends so much on housing that they can’t afford much else.” This applies to situations in which 30% of a homeowner's or renter's gross monthly income goes to living expenses, including monthly mortgage or rent payments, as well as insurance and maintenance costs.

The "house-poor" metric was determined by Pittsburgh's median household income ($45,831) and the median price for homes ($138,000). It also put the rate of home-ownership at 48%, much higher compared to the most house-poor city in the Northeast, Newark, N.J., where the rate of home-ownership is only 23%, and the median household income is $35,181 while the median home price is $281,294.

Even wealthy cities are struggling with being house-poor. Oakland, Calif.'s median household income is $68,442, but since its median home price is more than $765,000, the city is considered the most "house-poor" in the West.

The results were determined by rankings provided by IndexMundi that measured median income, home costs, and home-ownership in 100 U.S. cities between 2014-2018. Adding to the low median home costs, Pittsburgh also has a relatively low median cost for rent, which comes in at an average of $922 a month.

While the news may seem sunny, it doesn't take into account many housing issues affecting Pittsburgh residents. The rise in development and “house flipping,” in which buyers purchase cheap or rundown properties with the intent of renovating and selling them at an inflated price, has driven up home costs in many neighborhoods, particularly Lawrenceville. This has led to affordable-housing protections in places like Lawrenceville, the creation of Community Land Trusts, and the establishment of a city-wide Housing Opportunity Fund.

Housing issues have already transformed Downtown, where, despite efforts by housing advocates over the years, the building out of luxury condos and apartments has raised demand in the neighborhood, and left the area inaccessible to some renters and buyers. Not to mention that the city of Pittsburgh has been losing Black residents in droves, with many believing a cause is rising housing costs.

The pandemic has also highlighted the need for increased housing protections, particularly for currently unemployed or laid-off workers worried about paying rent. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implemented a temporary freeze on evictions and foreclosures through July 10, and many have called for a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments.

The City of Pittsburgh has also tried to alleviate the problem with the launch of services like the online Housing Assistance Resource Portal (HARP), where users can search for housing-related resources.

“It’s critical, especially in the time of this pandemic, that residents have access to all resources from their city, including housing,” says Majestic Lane, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's deputy chief of staff and chief equity officer, in a press release.