Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission recommended that City Council members take eight weeks to develop and research a proposal to create temporary tiny houses for people facing homelessness.

Earlier this month city councilors Deb Gross and Anthony Coghill previewed their proposal to change zoning in riverfront areas and the Golden Triangle to allow temporary managed communities for people who are homeless and can’t get access to the at-capacity shelters in the city. The commission was expected to vote on the proposal on Tuesday, but instead recommended that Gross, Coghill and others work with city planners and attorneys to draft legislation that would address fair housing concerns that might arise from building tiny houses.

The commission also recommended that city planners convene a stakeholders body to help guide tiny house-related legislation to address zoning issues and challenges raised at the earlier meeting on the issue. Coghill and Gross attended the commission’s first in-person meeting held since the pandemic shutdown, and both were open to the eight-week delay.

“The bottom line is, we really, really want to do something about this and I think the will of the city and county administration is there as well,” Coghill said, noting that the current tiny house idea is the result of two years of work by a committee made up of Coghill and other council members.

Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission holds a hybrid meeting on Feb. 20, the first of its kind since the pandemic shutdown. (Photo by Eric Jankiewicz/Rtvsrece)

Members of the public had a chance to comment on the proposal and many said that they supported housing homeless people, but felt that the proposal focused too much on the North Shore and Downtown.

Coghill responded that council hadn’t decided where tiny houses would go.

“We have 17,000 vacant lots. This is on two lots,” Coghill said. “We don't need a big footprint.”

William F. Goodrich, an attorney on the North Side who lives in Brighton Heights, applauded Coghill and Gross for their work but said: “This bill has many flaws in it and they have to be corrected to make it viable.”

Goodrich’s main issue with the bill, he said, centered around his belief that tiny house communities would be built along North Side riverfront trails and Downtown.

“I believe in helping people, not turning the city into a mecca of homelessness,” Goodrich said, expressing concern that the recent increase in homelessness was coming from newcomers flocking to the city’s Downtown area.

“If we're going to spend my money [as a taxpayer], I want to make sure it's for Pittsburghers, not for everybody else in adjoining states,” Goodrich said.

Others fully supported the idea of temporary managed communities.

”I believe that this bill could present a possible solution,” said Sam Schmidt, who last year ran unsuccessfully for Allegheny County Council.

Jonathan Nadle, a self-described concerned citizen from Beechview, worried that the city wasn’t doing enough to help people who are homeless.

“During the eight-week extension, please review the plans, you'll be convinced of its merits,” Nadle said.

Tyler Andreas, of the North Side, appreciated the council members' work in this area. 

But Andreas worried that efforts to change zoning and build tiny homes would take away from longer-term solutions to help people transition to stable housing.

“I don't believe this is the right long-term solution,” Andreas said.

A member of the Allegheny West Civic Council, Fran Barbush, also thought that there were better uses for effort and funding.

“I don't think it's a smart use of money to create these temporary shelters,” Barbush said, and echoed sentiments that the proposal leaned on the North Side and Downtown. “Other places need to step up.”

Coghill reiterated that the communities would be allowed “not just along the Northside trail” but “all along the river.”

The majority of the commissioners expressed support for the proposal. “I know we're all trying to get at something good,” said commission Chair LaShawn Burton-Faulk.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” she continued. “We've got selling to do.”

Eric Jankiewicz is Rtvsrece’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at ericj@rtvsrece.com or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

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Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for Rtvsrece. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...