No room(s) for slackers: Housing rush hits Oakland


Students rush to secure housing. Jack Trainor | Culture Editor

By Casey Schmauder / Staff Writer

Danielle Kitts and Michaela Woolston chattered away to their mothers on cell phones as they walked up Meyran Avenue toward Forbes.

“Well, we only have to pay half the deposit up front,” Kitts said.

“No, mom, after that it would be ours,” Woolston said.

Along with two of their friends, the pair had just picked an apartment in November for their junior year at Pitt, acting quickly in a market that grows more competitive every year.

According to the College Board, only 43 percent of Pitt’s 18,757 undergraduates live in on-campus housing. Next year, Kitts, Woolston and their other two roommates, Meredith Addison and Erica Brandbergh, will be a part of the 57 percent of Pitt students who live off campus. It would be their first time living off campus — this year, Kitts lives in Amos Hall while the other students live in McCormick Hall.

These students are signing leases faster than ever. Landlords are nearly all showing houses and apartments in November as opposed to January, which was when they used to start a few years ago.

Nearly a year in advance, the girls were ready to look at only two apartments, which they had heard about from Kitt’s sorority “big.”

For students who don’t find resources through friends, Pitt’s Off-Campus Living office advises that students check their website, Craigslist or with acquaintances.

Three of the young women had already looked at the house and were returning this time with a list of questions for the landlord, Karen Lucca, or the landlord’s brother, Dave Lucca.

Anxious, the girls arrived 15 minutes early. They pointed to the wooden balcony and talked about draping Christmas lights and what kind of cheap furniture they could get for the porch. Spotting a case of Natty Lite in front of the house next door, they wondered if their neighbors would host noisy, late-night parties.

“My parents are going to sh*t themselves when they see this,” Kitts, a nursing major, said.

Woolston said her expectations were low and the area did not phase her.

Given that there was competition for the apartment — a group of boys touring at the same time — the girls moved quickly.

A first bedroom and bath hid behind the front door of the apartment. The hallway led them to a snug kitchen with minimal cabinet space and a dining room. Beyond that, there was a spacious bedroom and bathroom.

The other two bedrooms were downstairs in the refurbished basement, bookending a large living room. The girls were in and out of the house in under five minutes.

As they followed the landlord’s brother, Dave Lucca, from 348 to 253 Meyran Ave., the first house lingered in the girls’ minds.

On the way over, Addison asked the questions she had written down to Dave Lucca. There was a crack in one of the bedroom windows, could it be fixed? Yes. When does the lease start? Aug. 16. Are there laundry facilities on site? Nearby — behind the house next door.

After hardly skimming the next house, a loft-style with four bedrooms and two bathrooms, the girls began walking out when they stopped and turned to Lucca. They wanted 348 Meyran.

It was in high demand, Lucca said, as he turned to lead another group of interested students around 348.

They called Lucca’s sister, the landlord, and when she didn’t answer, the girls chased Dave Lucca back to 348 Meyran.

After asserting again that they wanted it, he got on the phone with his sister, and she told them their next steps. The girls walked away, calling their parents and Googling bank hours, preparing to hand over $550 each, $2,200 total — the deposit to reserve their future apartment.

The four were right to rush.

“The apartments rent really fast in South Oakland,” their future landlord, Karen Lucca, said. “I sometimes feel the panic that they can’t find anything when they’re calling me.”

Lucca’s family owns roughly 80 apartments in South Oakland, and, as of Sunday, Nov. 8, she said she only had about 10 left, maybe fewer.

“We used to always rent our apartments in January, but two years ago we started taking calls Dec. 1, and this year we started Nov. 1.,” Karen Lucca said. “It’s getting earlier and earlier. It’s kind of hard for the students living there now, because they don’t know where they’re going to be next August or how many of their roommates are staying.”

Not only are the students racing to find houses, but they’re also neglecting zoning codes in the rush to secure affordable housing in Oakland.

Pittsburgh zoning code only allows three non-related residents to live in one apartment or house — a rule that some judges are recently cracking down on. But like many students in South Oakland, these four students don’t pay much attention to the code.

“There would be way too little student housing if we had to all pair up in threes,” Kitts said.

“If, for some reason, I was the only one [violating the code], then, yeah, I would panic, but I don’t care because everyone does it.”

Karen Lucca’s mother, Annette Barnes, owns the building at 348 Meyran Avenue. Karen Lucca said her mother is elderly and declined to give her phone number. Lucca said she was responsible for answering all questions relating to the property. The familycould face fines for allowing four people to live in her apartment, but Luccasaid the Oakland housing market just doesn’t support the “predated” code.

“I understand it’s a law, but I feel like sometimes things need to change. I think it’s time for that to change,” Karen Lucca said. “Also, there’s just not enough housing available for Pitt students otherwise.”

In Oakland’s limited and fast-paced renting market, things like obeying city zoning codes often take a back seat to nailing down a living situation as quickly as possible.

Karen Lucca advises students who are looking for off-campus housing to call landlords as soon as they know their price range, the number of bedrooms they want and when they want the lease to start.

Samantha Rawagah, a manager at McKee Place Apartments, also moved up her date this year for putting properties on the market.

“We started Nov. 2, and we are about 50 percent full now, and we have 122 properties,” Rawagha said. “Leasing is different this year, the rush is going to be much earlier.”

She said students often inquire about parking and laundry. Most of all though, Rawagha said students are “typically looking for cheap apartments that are livable.”

According to South Oakland landlord Dourid Aboud with Bluestone Realty, the majority of landlords previously began renting properties in January, but as of a couple years ago when students started calling earlier and earlier, most landlords moved start dates to Nov. 1.

“It used to be a three-month period. I would start Nov. 1, a third of my properties would be gone by Thanksgiving, another third by break and the rest by the end of January,” Aboud said. “But it’s definitely earlier. Now everyone is doing it in November.”

Students feeling overwhelmed can get help from Off-Campus Living, a resource for Pitt students located at 127 N. Bellefield Ave. They can assist students in finding off-campus housing and roommates, as well as providing information about specific neighborhoods and landlords.

Awaiting their lease, Addison, Brandbergh, Kitts and Woolston finally relaxed.

“The process was stressful because of the timing. We wanted to land the house and we needed the money fast,” Kitts said. “But we’re happy now, glad it’s over.”

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