From 1940 to 2010, Pittsburgh lost more than half of its population due to suburbanization, declining household sizes, and outmigration, among other reasons. One of the most lasting effects of this population decline is the prevalence of vacant lots throughout the City. Today, there are over 27,000 vacant lots in the City of Pittsburgh. These properties can compromise quality of life for residents, reduce property values and weaken the City’s tax base. While the majority of vacant lots remain in private ownership, they still present a significant maintenance challenge for the City of Pittsburgh. Approximately 26% of the total number of vacant lots are city owned. These 7,286 vacant properties make up 19% of the total area of vacant land within the City. Maintaining a single vacant property can cost the City over $500 per year, an estimated $3-4million based on current number of city-owned vacant lots. The second largest public owner of vacant land is the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
Over the past years, the City has developed several programs dealing with vacant lots, including a Side Yard Sale Program and the Garden Waiver program and the sidelot program. However, while the City has begun to grow in population again after seven decades of decline, significant numbers of vacant properties are likely to remain an issue for the foreseeable future. The development of the City Vacant Lot Toolkit, along with a thorough review of the City’s policies relating to vacant lots, is the first step in making vacant lots an asset for communities rather than a blight.
The number and role of vacant lots can vary significantly by neighborhood. Many City- and privately-owned vacant parcels are located in areas of very low market demand. Some neighborhoods with significant concentrations of vacant land, such as Larimer, are identified as having had less than five sales in the previous year, with around 30% of the remaining homes being owner-occupied. The City has taken steps such as the Choice Neighborhoods-funded redevelopment in Larimer to strategically address some of these vacant properties through redevelopment. While this model holds promise for stimulating growth, many of these vacant lots in low-demand neighborhoods are likely to remain vacant for 10 years or more and cause a drain on residents and the City if interim uses are not supported.
While much of the existing vacancy is concentrated in low-demand areas, dealing with vacancy in transitioning and high-demand areas poses its own set of challenges. In areas of rising market demand, such as Garfield, the question is how to concentrate and focus development through strategic redevelopment as well as open space reuses; while in areas that have rapidly increased in value, such as Lawrenceville, open space preservation may be a concern. In general, there is a high correlation between the market value of properties and the percentage of vacant land within a neighborhood. However, due to Pittsburgh’s extreme topography and industrial heritage, there are occasionally additional factors in the availability and location of vacant lots. The City has begun to identify lots that are unsuitable for future redevelopment due to these sorts of conditions and has been developing greenway concepts in several areas.
-City of Pittsburgh Vacant Lot Toolkit