The Pittsburgh Tenants Union has been "a long time coming," said Ronell Guy, executive director of The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. The resident-focused community development organization is spearheading efforts to create a city-wide tenants union.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to organize residents to stand up and have a voice in this city. The city of Pittsburgh is in a complete housing crisis,” she said, adding that the wait for affordable housing units can be years-long.
The offices of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing are only a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh. There, across the Allegheny River, rental rates are booming for offices and apartments alike. Part of what's driving record asking prices for apartments — In Pittsburgh as in many other places in the United States — is basic economics: high demand and low supply.
There haven’t been this many renters in the marketplace since the 1960’s, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found in a 2015 study. And while construction of multi-family units throughout the U.S. is on a tear, the cost of those apartments remains out of reach for low- and moderate-income families. Fully half of renters nationwide make less than $34,000, and just 10 percent of new units are accessible to them.
Too many people have fewer options, said Guy.
“It’s about wages, it’s about poverty, but unless they let us start cutting down trees, building houses in the park...we can do that...but people have to have somewhere to go.”
The Pittsburgh Tenants Union will act as an umbrella organization, advocating for individuals — with safety concerns such as mold — as well as smaller tenants unions. Broadly, the organization will educate people about their rights, as well as actions they can take to address issues with landlords.
Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.