Pitt considering housing benefit to encourage employees to live in Oakland


Pitt is working on details for a housing benefit for employees who choose to live in Oakland, which would fulfill a goal in the Institutional Master Plan to marry the University’s  development with community enhancements.

“One strategy that started to emerge and come forward was the opportunity to support more of our employees making Oakland their home community,” said Lina Dostilio, vice chancellor of engagement and community affairs. “The walk to work housing benefit is really a mutually beneficial program, one that helps us to attract and retain our employees and helps to strengthen the Oakland community by increasing the numbers of non-student residents who make Oakland their home year round.”

What that benefit will look like is still being developed, Dostilio and James Gallaher, vice chancellor for human resources, said.

“We’re in the process of benchmarking how other universities with similar housing markets have done these kinds of programs,” Dostilio said, citing Buffalo and Memphis as two areas they’re looking at. “And we’re talking with our employees to understand what would work best here because, of course, our program will be unique.”

John Hopkins University, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, all have some form of employer-assisted housing programs.

Typically, universities and colleges who offer these sorts of programs look at a number of different kinds of housing types and incentives, she said. This would include benefits for people who want to rent or buy in the neighborhood. It could mean a no interest loan for those wishing to buy, a rental subsidy, assistance with closing costs or security deposits, or help with home repairs.

“We want to reach our employees across the income spectrum and we want to make sure that our employees that are at the lower ends of the income spectrum … have quite a good benefit. So we’re thinking about tiering this across income levels,” Dostilio said.

Currently, about 400 faculty and staff members live in Oakland.

Gallaher said he has experience with similar programs from when he worked at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and Butler University in Indianapolis.

“They’re pretty popular, at least in my experience, and not only does it help the employee, it helps local businesses, because people shop locally,” he said. “We hope it will help provide more options and encourage folks to think about living in Oakland.”

The program would be open to housing in any of Oakland’s neighborhoods. “We want to look at where this benefit is mutually beneficial, where it’s helping us to attract and retain employees, improve their quality of life, and where is it helping to build density within the neighborhood,” Dostilio said.

Walnut Capital’s plan to build more multi-unit housing on Halket Street and to develop the Quality Inn site in cooperation with Pitt for non-student housing will add to the options for people who want to live in Oakland, but is independent from the University’s housing benefit plan.

Dostilio said it’s all part of bringing more year-round residents to Oakland, which will drive certain amenities to locate in the area, such as a long-sought grocery store. Plans for the Quality Inn site on the Boulevard of Allies include a grocery store on the first floor with apartments above.

“We think it’ll be a really strong program that helps promote positive things from multiple perspectives,” Gallaher said, such as the wellness aspect of walking to work, along with cutting down on commute times and reducing the number of vehicles in Oakland.

He stressed that they are really early in the planning process. They plan to meet with Staff Council in June about the housing benefit and also engage with the dean’s council and get other input from faculty. They hope to have a pilot program in place by spring 2023.

“It’s one of those things that contributes to overall employee satisfaction,” Gallaher said. “We’re ranked in the Forbes 500 (best) employers’ list and I want to see us climb that.”

“One of the reasons why it’s an attractive investment in our community is it’s unique in the city of Pittsburgh,” Dostilio said. “You see this kind of a program in other cities, where other major employers have stepped forward and are helping to make sure that their employees can find housing really close to their employment. … We are innovating here, and we’re hopeful that with the success of this program, other employers would follow suit.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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