By: Erin Yudt

College student Kairi Stallsmith is still unsure where they are going to live next semester.

As the next fall semester becomes closer and sign up for meal plans and housing contracts loom, college students are tasked again with finding the best and cheapest places to live, debating whether to stay on campus or find off-campus housing.

“I really have no idea where I am going to stay in the fall,” said Stallsmith, 18, a freshman at Point Park University with a Secondary Education major and focus in history. “Tuition is so expensive. Our on campus living options are so expensive. Apartments near campus are so expensive.”

Is there a potential solution to Stallsmith’s dilemma? With the sale of the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh now two summers ago, buyer City Club Apartments, LLC, is to begin construction this summer, leaving Pittsburgh residents to question whether the space is really needed or if it is going to be more affordable than other options in the area.

In the summer of 2020, The YWCA Greater Pittsburgh decided to put its building up for sale after losing a big county contract, and it was bought by City Club Apartments, LLC, being approved to make a luxury apartment building complex the following summer, which is now this upcoming summer of 2022, according to Point Park University Spokesperson Lou Corsaro. The YWCA building encompasses Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, which is being relocated to another part of campus because of the sale, Corsaro said. The building also includes the restaurant Mandarin Gourmet.

Point Park University’s campus includes several buildings that span across four blocks on Wood St, according to Corsaro, making the new apartment complex a close “off” campus living space. However, there are many other options as well. The Carlyle, a condominium building with about 60 units, is across the street from its now old Center for Media Innovation. A half block away on Fourth Avenue, the renovated Commonwealth Building has just opened as rental apartments with 140 units. Another popular space that students rent from is Keystone Flats on Third Avenue, only about half a block from the new apartment building location.

“I doubt we [college students] will be able to afford the new space. I can barely afford my small dorm right now, ” said Lexi Zelensky, 18, a freshman at Point Park University with a social justice major. “I am definitely excited to see what the new apartments will look like or if it will bring more people to Downtown, though.”

John Valentine, executive director of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation (CDC), believes that these new apartments are needed and affordable for certain people.

“We [Pittsburgh CDC] did surveys along with other developers on people living Downtown and those coming to the area,” Valentine said. “There is a need for this complex and overall Downtown living spaces.”

At the height of the pandemic, businesses were closing and developers were buying these commercial spaces and turning them into apartments and other living spaces. Residents were not leaving the area, but rather staying inside, according to Valentine. 

“We saw about 130,000 workers Downtown before the pandemic with about 4,000 residents,” said Valentine. “Now we’re at about 6,000 residents.”

Valentine also discussed how the hybrid workforce is contributing to more of a need for Downtown living.

“This hybrid workforce where people are only in the office half the time, then home half the time is creating more of a demand in apartment living versus office space,” said Valentine. “People still need to be close to their offices, just not all the time.”

Additionally, Valentine elaborated on what these spaces have to offer for the city.

“People are now wanting to get out, wanting to change their lifestyle, and what better place than Pittsburgh,” said Valentine. “Pittsburgh is really affordable. I don’t know what other city you can get the quantity and quality of a one bedroom apartment for under $1,600 a month like Pittsburgh has. As for this new space, some will be able to afford it and some won’t, but we have so many great public and more affordable housing options.”

Pittsburgh is seeing a great number of visitors returning with the theater district back in business and is “packed,” according to Valentine, which highlights lessons learned from the pandemic.

“Like [after] the Spanish flu, we are seeing the Roaring 20s,” said Valentine. “I think people are realizing that we can’t take things for granted and that we can learn great things from this terrible situation.”