“The largest challenge that we face, from my perspective, is the ability to continue moving forward so the agency will have a single mission: that is, to provide decent, safe, and affordable housing.”
-Alphonso Jackson, Former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Focus of Study
Our study focuses on affordable housing in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood-Brushton. Our study uses the theory of collective efficacy to provide solutions which bring the community together to create a better atmosphere for cultivating the improvement of their neighborhood. In addition to collective efficacy, the theory of human ecology theory, or the idea of individuals affecting their environment and vice versa, will also be implemented.
This study was conducted using information from the neighborhood level of Homewood-Brushton by looking up rent and housing costs to compare to average incomes at the census tract level, of which Homewood has five. Shared within the links on this page is data showing that the affordable housing situation in Homewood is a multi-faceted problem, its effects being shown in property value, rent versus income of households, and rejected home loans. This data is pulled from socialexplorer.com as well as the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research, or UCSUR.
Introduction to Housing in Homewood
Originally, Homewood was coveted land that wealthy elites such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and John Heinz established estates upon. Carnegie referred to the neighborhood as a place in which he could live “the country life.” In its early years, Homewood was seen as an escape from the city and elites lived on their sprawling estates well into the late 1800s.
After the elites left, Homewood saw a transition from estates to new mass-produced, yet still sturdy, quality homes. These homes reflected the new middle class tone of Homewood. Soon Homewood become a melting pot of many ethnicities, each bringing their own flair to their homes and effectively ending the homogenous look Homewood had come to known. Pittsburgh experienced another great shift when it became a Black community in the late 1950s. In 1950, the neighborhood was a quarter Black, yet by 1960 this number drastically increased to over 70%. This trend continued every year after. Bitter racial tensions ensued throughout the 1950s and Whites began to the leave the neighborhood in favor of the suburbs. (Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania).
What is affordable housing?
This short YouTube video from Housing Virginia does an excellent job of giving a simple, visual explanation of what it means for housing to be considered affordable.
The video above explains what is classified as affordable housing. It is important to understand what affordable housing entails in order to be able to implement viable housing solutions into a community. By explaining what the trends of income, rent, and affordable housing have been doing in recent years, the main problem a lot of families are facing emerges.
According to the website for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, families who pay more than 30% of their income for housing are burdened by housing cost. HUD estimates that 12 million renter and homeowner households pay more than 50% of their annual income on housing, adding that “a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.”
Effects of unaffordable housing
If 30% or more of a family’s annual income is being spent on housing that family will consequently have to closely budget their remaining income. This often means cutting back on necessities such as groceries and clothing for the family as well as a reduction in spending on school supplies and activities for children in the family. Families who are affected by the strict budgeting undergo extreme stress as they are under even more pressure from harder circumstances to provide necessities for the family to survive.
In Homewood, 1 in 3 residential lots are vacant (Operation Better Block). Vacant homes are a visual blight to the neighborhoods that they are in and can case a neighborhood to become less attractive to investors and future homebuyers.
Homewood Home Loans
Purchasing a home is not an easy endeavor. Not many people are able to purchase a home without the assistance of a loan from a bank. These loans allow people to purchase homes without paying for the home upfront, a feat that is impossible to many. Homewood has a shockingly low number of applicants for home loans yet a shockingly high percentage of rejections.
As can be seen from the graphs, not many residents of homewood apply for or receive home loans. This contributes not only to residents inability to purchase a home, it also traps residents into staying renters.
Information from these graphs is taken from the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research.
While exploring solutions for affordable housing issues it is important to keep a holistic view of this issue. Affordable housing encompases more than simply the inability of a person to afford a home. It is not simply that a person does not work long enough hours. It is the fact that millions of hardworking people have to pay 50% or more of their income on housing costs. This affects their ability to provide other necessities for their family and overall negatively impacts family life.
It is vital to remember that affordable housing is not the same for everyone. 30% of an individual’s income who makes $200,000 a year spent on income is very different from someone making $18,000 a year spending 30% of their income on housing.
Solutions must focus on aiding communities in applying for, and receiving, home loans. Solutions must also focus on ways to bring in affordable housing and to update current housing to not exceed the an annual cost greater than 30% of the community’s median family income.
A possible step to help stabilize Homewood’s housing market could be land banking. Land banking is defined as the practice of buying land as an investment and holding onto it for future use. Project Better Block has been currently doing this in Homewood but not on the scale that would have to be implemented to see real changes. Some may say that this will not do anything to help the housing in Homewood because the vacant lots and homes will just still sit there unused. This would start to push Homewood’s housing in the right direction due to human ecology. Human ecology is the study relationships between humans and their natural, social, and built environments. The theory would be that if this land was owned by companies in the area, that they would have a vested interest to make it look better for the community as a whole. Currently all the vacant lots are held by the state. Not only are they not getting property taxes on that land but they are not as invested in the community.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website offers assistance to renters, homeowners, and homebuyers. It also has a frequently asked questions, or FAQ, section. Here you can also find the contact information of John E. Tolbert, director of the Pittsburgh Field Office for Hud. He can be reached by email at John.E.Tolbert@hud.gov or by phone at (412)-644-5846.
Action Housing Inc. has been providing affordable homes and other services to Western Pennsylvania for 58 years. Their mission statement reads, “to empower people to build more secure and self-sufficient lives through the provision of decent, affordable housing, essential supportive services, asset building programs, and educational and employment opportunities.” This organization can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pennsylvania Affordable Housing Corporation is located in Pittsburgh and strives to provide affordable housing and development services to local housing and development authorities, community corporations that focus on development, and community non-profits.
Short Video About Homewood-Brushton: