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August 31, 2006

Pitt, city “redd up” Oakland

Pitt is working with city officials to improve conditions in residential areas around the University, which have suffered from chronic landlord abuses and student-tenant irresponsibility.

“The chancellor is on record that the University will commit resources to the problem,” including appropriate funding, said G. Reynolds Clark, vice chancellor of Community and Governmental Relations. “We are conducting ongoing discussions with the city and the mayor’s office to see what we can do. But nothing specific has been determined yet.”

Earlier this month, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Deputy Mayor Yarone Zober toured the south and central Oakland neighborhoods for a quick assessment of dilapidated housing conditions, trash and other problems endemic to neighborhoods known for absentee landlords and high tenant turnover.

The two promised to join forces to crack down on building code violations and other problems such as refuse, graffiti, unkempt property and debris.

The city then sent 14 building inspectors who checked some 700 properties and cited more than 250 of them for code violations and other problems, according to Ron Graziano, chief of the Bureau of Building Inspections. “The notices were sent out Aug. 25,” Graziano said. “The landlords have 30 days for the more serious violations, such as code violations, to fix the problem and then notify the inspector to return for an inspection. If they do that, we abate the violation. If that doesn’t happen, we turn it over to the magistrate for further action.”

Clark said, “We’re monitoring that and waiting to see if those citations will lead to more better-kept properties.”

Clark noted that Pitt already has put its money where its mouth is. For years the University has paid half the salary of a building inspector concentrating efforts in south and central Oakland.

“And, in a broader sense, the University has committed in a big way to providing on-campus housing that is safe and attractive to students and that provides the amenities that students want.”

Having on-campus housing as a viable, if not superior, alternative to off-campus lodging puts pressure on local landlords to maintain their properties to be competitive, he said.

Counting the 512 beds in brand-new Panther Hall, Pitt has increased Pittsburgh campus housing by about 25 percent since 1998, Clark said.

“We’ve gone from 5,500 to 6,800 beds,” he said. “In addition to being up to or surpassing all building safety codes — and we’re one of the few universities in the country to be able to say this — we now have every [dorm room] protected by a fire suppression system.”

All on-campus housing also is wired for Internet access, which appeals to students, he noted.

Housing construction, renovation and safety upgrades have cost Pitt about $115 million in the past decade, Clark said. “We are committed to providing guaranteed quality housing for our undergraduates. We’re also putting some new housing on the upper campus for medical students.”

A 184-bed, four-story medical school housing complex set for completion next summer will be built on Darragh Street across from Fitzgerald Field House at a cost of $18.2 million.

Other efforts already in place include:

• Pitt’s Housing Resource Center, a central source of information regarding rental properties in the community, lists only apartments and houses that pass inspection by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspections.

• Pitt’s contract with the Port Authority for free bus rides county-wide expands students’ options to live in more upscale residential neighborhoods.

• The Adopt-a-Block program includes a number of Pitt organizations that have volunteered to police a designated neighborhood street for trash removal.

• Pitt’s Day of Caring includes Oakland clean up projects.

• The Oakland Business Improvement District, of which Pitt is a charter member, finances a group of trash collectors and flyer removers who augment regular city services.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 1

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