Housing is a human right: Pittsburgh residents continue to hurt for housing

Brentaro Yamane | multimedia editor | John Butler is a graduate student at University of Pittsburgh. He sees the challenges of students finding housing and attended the event to express his concern.

Naomi Girson & Michael O’Grady | Staff Writers

20,000 Pittsburghers were shorted out of housing this year due to a lack of affordable options.

On Saturday, more than 150 frustrated city residents congregated in the Frick Fine Arts auditorium for Pittsburgh People’s Assembly for Fair and Equitable Housing multi-tiered event in honor of Fair Housing Month.

The main issues discussed were about the lack of affordable housing in Pittsburgh. The number of individuals incapable of purchasing housing has been higher than 20,000 in past years, but people have moved out and displaced, even dying from lack of affordable and livable housing.

Besides the opening and closing preliminary sessions, there were a total of eight breakout rooms, divided into a morning and afternoon session covering economic struggles, redlining, restrictive covenants, cultural barriers and racism.

Breakout rooms were led by educated guest speakers informing the audience about what to do in the case of greedy landlords, immoral house flipping and inflated pricing on student housing.

Despite the topic variety it was clear each group echoed the same sentiment – affordable housing id disappearing in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh has shifted from a city of homeowners to renters, Carl Redwood Jr., a Pittsburgh activist advocating for the Rental Nation Project, said during the opening session, due to the rising disparity between housing prices and pay.
Attendees were educated about Pittsburgh’s long history of inequality in the real estate market.

“The [United States’] racist housing policy was built on two pillars, redlining and restrictive covenants. These mainly applied to homeownership but impacted rental patterns as well. In short, the basic U.S. housing policy during the 1900s was homeownership for white families, and rent for blacks,” Redwood said.

While times have changed, the general problem remains the same.

“Human rights don’t trickle down, they rise,” was the slogan of the day.

Before the day even started, James Drurey, a biological sciences major at the University of Pittsburgh, attended Saturday as a way to further his understanding of his human rights class. Drurey’s human rights professor had been using the “Human rights don’t trickle down” quote in the classroom.

“He always tries to link it [the lessons] to human rights,” Drurey said. “They don’t work simply from a top-down approach.”

Opening speaker and Pitt research affiliate, Randall Taylor, was angry about the lack of action regarding fair housing.

“I’m angry that I have to fight about something as basic as housing, and particularly I’m angry that we have the solutions here, and we have the money here,” Taylor said. “It’s time for us to end this foolishness about displacement eviction and begin to house our people, the government [needs to] begin to house our people.”

Many groups in attendance represented minorities in Pittsburgh, including nonprofit Casa San Jose, a resource center for the Latinx population.

“We have leaders that are much more progressive than they’ve ever been in the past, but that doesn’t mean they get a pass,” said Casa San Jose staff member Monica Ruiz.

This particular sentiment was especially impactful and received cheers throughout the auditorium. The crowd agreed that changing politics helps little when handed an eviction notice with nowhere else to go.

However, it was also emphasized that no solutions would have a perfect outcome.

Sally Stadelman, manager at nonprofit Pittsburgh Land Bank, highlighted the importance of making sacrifices to have the best of both worlds.

“Everybody wants to live on an urban farm, but two blocks away from a cute business district with the best public transportation you’ve ever seen,” Stadelman said.

As a dedicated worker to her cause, she is trying to make a change with housing in Pittsburgh, buying homes, rehabilitating them, and selling them to nonprofit organizations like City of Bridges who sell them to tenants for a more reasonable price, despite her employment’s lack of ability to guarantee her 2025 salary. Currently, Stadelman is working without a promise of pay next year.

In another session during the Fair and Equitable Housing event, John Butler and Samey Jay, two Pittsburgh college alumni, discussed student housing.

In this session, students were asked to share stories about their housing experiences. Jay said that she has moved 17 times in 14 years. To her, it is so important that students know that they have the power and can make a change. Butler felt the same.

“A little love goes a long way,” Butler said. “Each of us is human and each of us face the same struggles.”

One of the largest issues students pointed out was feeling like a temporary commodity that landlords can take away at any moment.
The advice was simple: get to know your neighbors, learn the signs of exploitation and see if you are falling into the trap.

While it’s important to know what to do next, it’s imperative to have people standing with you. Working in a group can offer more power as opposed to fighting individually.

Meeting and calling council members is both possible and plausible. In fact, Councilwoman Deb Gross attended the event and outlined problems and solutions to social housing that she and other local leaders have the ability to solve.

With all of the presented goals, the most important takeaway was that none of these problems are solvable alone. The point of the day was to learn how to make an impact: to start signing petitions, start calling council members and start enacting change.

Rachel Shepherd, executive director of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the main co-sponsor of the event, motivated the crowd.

“We’re here to get you all moving to move ourselves forward, and to approach this not just on a policy level, not just on the government level, but on the ground,” she said.