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June 10, 2004

Task Force Wants More Pitt Employees to Call Oakland Home

If a Senate committee’s task force has its way, more Pit employees will be making Oakland their home as well as their place of work.

Community relations committee (CRC) leaders last week summarized the committee’s efforts over the last year — and vowed to press on with such efforts — to promote housing opportunities for Pitt and UPMC employees in near-to-campus neighborhoods.

According to Tracy Soska, outgoing chair of CRC, the committee’s focus on area housing, and particularly on exploring employer-assisted housing (EAH) options, grew out of meetings with community organizations with the common goal of revitalizing the greater Oakland area.

Such plans and “re-visions” of Oakland and surrounding neighborhoods as proposed by a number of community groups  invariably focus on the importance of homeownership and housing development, Soska said at the June 1 Faculty Assembly [and June 7 Senate Council (TB confirmed)] meetings.

The community relations committee has come “to better appreciate the importance of Oakland as more than an educational, medical and commercial hub vital to the region’s economy and future,” the committee report presented by Soska and chair-elect Linda Hartman stated. “[The committee] was also impressed with Oakland and nearby neighborhoods as places to live both connected to our institutions and to the larger region … especially as places for our University and UPMC employees to reside.”

The report further stated that, “The CRC’s task group on housing is approaching this issue as a limited partnership to support [Oakland] revitalization efforts in ways that might also benefit our University system and its employees,” to wit:

* Benchmarking other universities and institutions that offer employer-assisted housing (EAH) programs, such as the University of Louisville, the University of Pennsylvania and Howard University;

* Establishing on-line links between the Pitt home web page and Oakland community web sites, such as the Oakland Planning and Development Corp.’s “Only in Oakland” ( and “Virtual Oakland” ( sites;

* Promoting homeownership by educating University and UPMC employees on housing opportunities and community development resources offered through community partners such as Fannie Mae Corp., the City of Pittsburgh and local lending institutions.

* Conducting a web-based survey of Pitt employees on potential homeowner interest in select near-campus neighborhoods of central Oakland, South Oakland, West Oakland and Hazelwood.

Hartman reported to Faculty Assembly on the survey’s findings, which included that convenience to job was the No. 1 reason respondents gave for choosing a particular neighborhood in which to purchase a home, followed by convenience to transportation.

On the negative side, Hartman reported, respondents listed neighborhood safety, appearance and lack of cleanliness as the top reasons given by those not wishing to live in near-to-campus neighborhoods and by those respondents who are not sure whether they would consider those neighborhoods for home-buying.

Affordability of housing, quality of housing and lack of knowledge about neighborhoods were the top three problems respondents encountered upon first moving to Pittsburgh, according to the survey.

More than half the survey’s 39 respondents said they were not familiar with employer-assisted housing programs, Hartman said, which can provide mortgage money and other employer-assisted services in support of affordable housing. Depending on what parties agree to, EAH services can include home-buyer workshops; help in locating affordable housing; financial and credit counseling; closing costs assistance; down payment assistance; matching savings; “rent to buy” options, and loan guarantees.

Hartman acknowledged that the survey response was disappointing, a result of limited promotion.

Soska told the University Times that the survey was designed as a marketing tool rather than a scientific study. “[EAH programs] fit in with both the community’s and University’s short- and long-term housing strategy, increasing the area’s stability and lessening problems of absentee landlords and housing code violations, maintenance, safety and other issues.”

The community relations committee is not yet pushing for EAH programs to become an employee benefit, Soska said. Rather, the committee will continue gathering data on housing opportunities and report to Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, which will be responsible for making recommendations, he said.

—Peter Hart

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