Housing updates: Eviction filings, inclusionary zoning and the national rental picture

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

By Juliet Martinez

The housing situation is precarious. Pandemic rental aid is running out for many households. Eviction freezes have expired. It's not a quick fix, but Pittsburgh is extending its inclusive development ordinance. Meanwhile, rental demand is rising across the country and repairs are a growing issue. 

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PA State Senator Nikil Saval (D, Philadelphia) on his Whole-Home Repairs bill designed to help lower-income families stay in their homes.Graphic by Juliet Martinez

Eviction filings 

Public Source reported the number of local eviction filings rising in late 2021. The eviction freezes and hearing extensions ended, so landlords can once again take tenants to court. Still, the number of filings in December was about 70% of pre-pandemic levels.  

Rental aid may have played a part there. ERAP has paid out $68.4 million for about 12,000 households. Less than 300 applications have been denied. More than 10,000 are still in process and on average, 85 new applications come in per day. 

Natalie Ryan of ACTION-Housing told Public Source funds are running low. And the ERAP applications already in process will likely consume the rest of the federal rent relief money for Allegheny County. 

Before the pandemic, the lack of affordable housing created serious problems in Pittsburgh. This has only gotten worse. 

“There’s long waiting lists,” Richard Wierzbowski told Public Source. The East Liberty retiree had been apartment hunting since June. By December he was facing an eviction filing. “Some are not even taking applications anymore. And as far as market rate, it’s way beyond what my monthly income is.” 

Inclusionary zoning headed for Bloomfield and Polish Hill

Inclusionary zoning is one way to address the need for affordable housing. It requires developers to set aside a percentage of new rental units or homes as affordable.  

The City Planning Commission has recommended bringing two neighborhoods into the city’s inclusionary zoning district. Right now, it only covers Lawrenceville. City Council still has to approve the extension to Bloomfield and Polish Hill. If they do, developers building new apartments or homes have to make 10% of them affordable for 35 years.  

Affordability means that the price of housing is no more than 30% of a household’s income. Renters earning no more than 50% of the area median income will able to apply for inclusionary units. Home buyers earning at most 80% of area median income will have access to inclusionary homes.  

Lower-income renters are hurting and the Northeast faces particular challenges

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released its 2022 rental housing report in January. It confirms what many know first-hand. Nationwide, the pandemic has hit lower-income renters harder than those with higher incomes. 

In the last quarter of 2021, 23% of households with incomes below $25,000 were behind on their rent. And 15% of those with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 owed back rent. Compare that with households making more than $75,000. Just 5% of them were behind on rent.

This comes as demand for rental housing is extremely high. Under 6% of professionally managed units are vacant nationwide. The rental vacancy rate has not been this low since the mid-1980s. It is even lower for moderate- and low-priced rentals, where 3.7–4.0% of units are empty.  

The report says one factor affecting the supply of rental units is the need for repairs. In 2019, HUD classified 7% of rental stock as moderately or severely inadequate. This means a building might have large holes or leaks. It may lack basic features like plumbing, electricity, water or heat. For units built before 1940, 11% were moderately or severely inadequate. 

This problem is more acute in Pennsylvania. The Northeast has the oldest rental housing stock in the country.  

I reached out to State Sen. Nikil Saval (D, Philadelphia) who has proposed legislation streamlining whole-home repair programs statewide. He echoed concerns about Pennsylvania’s aging housing stock. Keeping homes weather-tight and in good repair is vital, but costly.

“Home repairs are a matter of housing justice, energy justice, public health, and community stability, regardless of whether a person owns or rents their home,” Sen. Saval wrote in an email. “I’m introducing Whole-Home Repairs legislation to make it possible for lower-income households to stay in their homes, safely, healthfully, and comfortably, for now, and for the long-term.”

Older units and those needing repair are more vulnerable to climate change. The report hits an ominous note, saying:

The immediate impacts of climate change will increase the costs of maintaining and repairing the rental stock ... But the increasing incidence of weather-related damage in the coming years could leave many more rental units uninhabitable, threatening the health and safety of residents and causing widespread displacement.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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