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March 2, 2017

OPDC launches effort to hike owner-occupancy

The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC) is launching a community land trust in Oakland in a bid to stabilize the neighborhood through increased owner-occupancy.

“Chances are, if you live in a stable neighborhood it’s because there’s a base of homeowners,” Wanda Wilson, OPDC executive director, told the University Senate community relations committee (CRC) last month.

Under pressure from investors, real estate prices have been increasing rapidly in Oakland’s residential areas in recent years, Wilson said. “Transactions are primarily going to nonresident owners when properties sell.

“We’re seeing the rate of owner-occupancy go down, the rate of investor speculation go up, prices going up. But that doesn’t mean the quality of the housing stock is increasing because of that value. It’s often the case that the quality goes down while the prices go up because of speculation.”

Affordability is another goal, she said. “As an equitable development strategy for the future, we’re very concerned that there are opportunities for people of all income levels to be able to be part of the community and have an opportunity to own a home and reside here in Oakland.

“Right now that’s becoming very challenging, for people even of moderate income,” she said.

OPDC, which is among the community partners at the CRC table, engages in a range of programs and services, including investment in affordable housing.

Through the community land trust, a new resident would buy a home, but would lease the land under a long-term agreement with the land trust. When the homeowner sells, the sale would be restricted to owner-occupants, keeping the property under community control in perpetuity.

OPDC plans to acquire 64 properties for the land trust in the next five years.

It aims to increase homeownership to 50 percent in targeted areas — blocks that without intervention could see owner-occupancy dwindle to 28 percent, Wilson said.
At that level, more disinvestment, public safety issues and building code concerns would be expected, making it harder to attract new homeowners, she said.

“What we are looking at is just making sure that we can maintain homes in the hands of homeowners,” Wilson said.

Details on the land trust are at

Bates Street development concerns
Additionally, Wilson expressed concern about proposed development on Bates Street. Oakland Gateway Ventures has purchased a stretch of 11 row houses on Bates Street between the Boulevard of the Allies and Zulema Street.

Although no plans have been filed with the city, Wilson said residents have expressed concerns that the developer intends to build a high-rise that exceeds current zoning restrictions and that would eliminate Zulema Park, and build a separate 2,000-car parking garage on hillside land on Bates between the Boulevard of the Allies and the Parkway East.

“It’s very concerning because it’s not in conformity,” she said.

“The community has been quite clear with them that there isn’t community support for the very large mixed-use development that they’ve proposed — basically because it’s not consistent with what the zoning of the area would allow. And they’re proposing to build on public land they don’t own and even on public rights-of-way.”

She cited traffic, pollution and the scale of the project as concerns, adding that the developer reportedly is using aggressive tactics in its property acquisition. “People in our community are being harassed and frightened,” she said.

“We want to make sure our public officials hear from the Oakland community that there is not support,” she said, asking for the support of the University and CRC.

Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations, said the University is careful not to take positions on projects until they’ve been presented to the city. “We’re not going to come out on hypothetical things,” he said.

“When they’ve come to talk to us from Oakland Gateway Ventures, we’ve been very clear that the concerns of the community are out there regarding the scope and size of a lot of their development; at the same time … I think we all felt like that’s an area that does need redevelopment. Also, Bates Street is a corridor that’s in desperate need of being improved.”

Said Wilson: “I think it’s an issue for all of us who do planning as partners in the Oakland community to be on the same page. … Traffic and parking issues are always a huge concern. I think for the large institutions in Oakland to be completely silent on a proposal of this nature leaves open a lot of questions.”

Supowitz said: “I think they are looking at dramatic improvements to the Bates Street corridor as well. Until we see a proposal, we don’t know.”

State budget advocacy
Supowitz updated the committee on the state budget, noting that Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget would provide $146.7 million in general support for Pitt and $11.1 million for the health sciences.

“Keep in mind, that’s just a proposal,” he said, adding that the Republican majorities will have a large say in what the state’s final budget will look like.

The state is facing a $3 billion budget hole in the coming year and if the Assembly doesn’t concur with the governor’s suggestions for closing that gap they’ll have to find other means, he said.

Supowitz encouraged members of the University community to make their wishes known to legislators. Information on the Pitt Advocates and on Pitt Day in Harrisburg is posted at

In addition, Supowitz said his office, on request, would brief campus groups on advocacy.


CRC’s March 21 meeting may take place on the road — literally — as part of the Pitt bus caravan to the state Capitol. Rather than proceed with its scheduled meeting on campus, CRC instead will encourage members to attend Pitt Day in Harrisburg.


—Kimberly K. Barlow

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