So, declaring anything “affordable” — even hedging it as “Affordable-ish” — is bound to enrage someone (and it has!). And you know what? They’re probably right. Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes “affordable.” Pittsburgh is certainly less affordable in general than it was a decade or two ago.
If the average house in America costs $412,000 (and much higher in many places), and a house in Squirrel Hill like the one in last week’s edition is $300,000 — that seems relatively affordable. But people aren’t buying an entire market, they’re buying a specific house. And it wasn’t that long ago when houses could be found here for half that or less (sometimes much less). Those are gone, but so is the post-steel malaise that made them that way.
Yes, there are well-paid tech workers arriving, eager to buy into a great, underrated city on the cheap — which, of course, makes it less cheap. But that’s really just happening in a handful of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods, many of which are still stagnant or in decline. If anything, we’d like to point out that there are other places where you can have a good life in Pittsburgh, besides the few spots that are booming.
Like most things, it’s a trade-off. We don’t want to see people priced out of their neighborhoods, ever. But someone’s got to pay taxes to fix our duct-taped infrastructure and schools, or those costs just get dumped back on those of us who have lived here forever.
That said, there are big, systemic problems brewing in the housing sector, like hedge funds and private equity firms buying up thousands of single-family houses and driving up prices, which is happening here in Allegheny County. That’s a problem that seems beyond the scope of this column, but it could have ramifications for everyone who wants to live here.
The sub-$200,000 houses that used to be everywhere in Pittsburgh? They’re still out there. East Allegheny was cut off from the center of the North Side by the construction of I-279 and has struggled to regain its footing ever since. But someone clearly put some care into keeping this 1-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot wood-frame house, build in 1900 when the Heinz factory behind it was still a factory and employed thousands.
There’s often an indeterminate period of time after the Steelers get booted from the playoffs where the North Side is no longer a place of victory and triumph — it’s a reminder of our shameful shortcomings. Hey, blame Tomlin if you must (he can take it), but leave the North Side out of it. Here’s a nice spot on the North Side right across the 13th Street Bridge from the Strip, blessedly out of view of the stadium. It used to be a literal Heinz factory (where my grandfather worked in the 100-degree blacksmith shop). Now, it’s very nice apartments. These brick factories were built with care and craftsmanship that seems lost to the ages. Grandpa wouldn’t understand why you’d want to live in a factory, but that’s okay. (Pro tip: don’t ask if you can get a Heinz ketchup spigot installed by the kitchen faucet. They don’t find that funny).
For sale: 18 S. 13th St., $200,000, South Side
If you have finally reached the “let people like what they like” stage of life, congratulations, it’s great. For some of us, this frankly ridiculously skinny brick rowhouse (built in 1900) is in walking distance of most daily needs and lots of fun places that you certainly don’t need (bars). For others, I can pretty much feel the disgust through the screen — “Ugh, where’s the parking?” Maybe it isn’t for you, and that’s okay.
Print Shop Lofts 1, 3010 Jane St., $1,400-1,475, South Side.
The discourse on the South Side tends to get heated over crime, which is typically just the kinds of dumb crimes that occur whenever you have a lot of inebriated people in a place at once. Hot take: the South Side is actually great — except for a few hours on Friday and Saturday, when drunken revelry rules the night. Just stay at home then and you may not even notice. Plus, you can live in a 19th-century print shop/factory, walk to the bars, and never worry about calling an Uber to get home. And, well, people have different perceptions of safety. I used to have friends on the South Side who played a lot of Nintendo with their neighbors — who would occasionally turn out to be off-the-books AK-47s dealers (the late ‘90s were wild). Nobody seemed to mind, but it’s never a bad idea to let others win at Mario Kart occasionally.
For sale: 2 Elmont St., $220,000. West End.
Remember how cool it felt to get some bright-white new shoes as a kid? However, they also came with the fatal knowledge that that your shoes are simply too fresh, too clean for this filthy world, which they would join sooner or later. Well, that feeling is similar to contemplating a freshly painted, all-white house in Pittsburgh. Like, this house certainly looks lovely against the snow in this photo. But then your eye is drawn to the house next door, and there’s another possible future: a house with the sallow, off-white color of nicotine-stained teeth. But if you’re looking for a 4-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot house with some historic character and that ultra-contemporary neutral palette of your dreams, this could be it.
41 Maplewood Ave., $995/month. Crafton Heights
The West End is terra incognita to a lot of East End-centric Pittsburghers, but it’s also fairly quiet and convenient to Downtown, the airport and offices along the Parkway West. This area is full of medium-sized homes on small lots, with a streetcar-suburb type design (though without the streetcars, or suburbs). You won’t find a lot of $8 juice places here, but Big Daddy’s Donuts is in walking distance, which is arguably better. These particular apartments are quite small, but at least one comes with a spiral staircase, making it easily defensible in case you have to repel a raiding party of Norman knights or something.