How Tech Companies Are Driving Gentrification In Pittsburgh

Google, Uber and Amazon have been good to Pittsburgh, but have pushed black residents out of their homes.

Photo Credit: Photo: Stephen Caruso

| March 30 2017,

8:00 pm

No city is safe. The gentrification of cities like New York and San Francisco is well documented. Big companies come in, start handing out nice salaries, landlords realize they can charge more than they once did, and so they do.

According to Marketplace, the phenomenon has come now come to Pittsburgh. Once America’s steel town, the city is now a hub for Google, Amazon and Uber.

This is great news for a city that was feeling some of the strain so many Rust Belt cities have suffered under the past few years. But it was terrible news for people living in neighborhoods like East Liberty, a place that was once a predominantly black neighborhood.

East Liberty resident Alethea Sims noticed her neighborhood changing as soon as Google bought a building nearby. Tech workers flooded in. Sims hung a sign reading “Black Homes Matter,” but no one paid it much mind.

Instead, Sims said, rents kept — and keep — increasing. “You’re talking, like, $1,000, $2,000 and up for a one bedroom,” Sims lamented. “Who’s that affordable for? Definitely not the people who lived here. And not too many people that I know of.”

Stefani Pashman, director of a local nonprofit, told Marketplace that the housing sector isn’t the only place where there are clear winners and losers. “We’ve seen about a 10 percent growth in technology jobs over the last 10 years, and overall, our labor market has only grown maybe two percent in jobs,” she said.

To make matter worse, reflecting the recent Uber numbers and Google’s very public struggle with diversity, Pashman said that Pittsburgh’s technology growth has really only benefited young, white male job seekers, who, once hired, make an average of 33 percent more than other area workers.

Alon Lavie, a computer science professor at local STEM powerhouse Carnegie Mellon University, believes that there’s a silver lining in all of this: ending brain drain. Before the tech giants touched down, he said, “As soon as we would graduate these Ph.D.s, there was this big kind of sucking sound that would be all those people moving away from Pittsburgh.”

Unfortunately, none of those bright young minds are working on affordable housing solutions. Which leaves the former residents of East Liberty seeking shelter elsewhere.

“We aren’t like some other places where there is nowhere to go,” demographic analyst Sabrina Dietrich told Marketplace, pointing to neighborhoods away from tech offices that have not seen huge rent increases.

Still, as anyone who has been forced to move could tell you, just because some other affordable place exists, doesn’t mean you’ll happily leave your home.