For most of its existence, Oakland was known as a neighborhood that happened to have a university in it. But over the last few decades, as the enrollment at the University of Pittsburgh expanded, so did the need for student housing. This in turn led to a major shift in the neighborhood from residential to tenant based housing dominated by college students.
The many disturbances and code violations committed by students living in the neighborhood has brought down the quality of life and has led many new residents to pass over Oakland when choosing a part of the city to live in. Oakwatch was formed by the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in order to attract people to permanently reside in the neighborhood.
Each month, Oakwatch brings residents together with elected officials, building inspectors, public health professionals and police to address Oakland’s biggest problem properties. Oakwatch Co-chair Hanson Kappelman talks about the community driven way they're dealing with neighborhood offenders.
“Part of the [plan] is trying to shift the demographics, even a little bit, to make it more of a family friendly neighborhood … Oakland is the third largest generator of economic activity in the state. If people could live within walking distance, that would help in terms of environmental things that were all trying to work for, and it would help revive the community. We see a number of major apartment buildings come in who are trying to target the young professionals… and we hope, and its one of the things that the [Oakland Planning and Development Corporation] tries to do more generally, is to be able to stabilize the single family base and even bring it back a little bit.”
Kappelman also added that many landlords are exceeding the occupancy limit.
“There are many landlords in Oakland that are doing what they should be doing. But there are those few who, if they’ve got three bedrooms, maybe they’ll put six people in there. If they have six bedrooms, they’ll certainly try to put six people in there. Both of those things are against the code. That’s why we have Oakwatch, the Oakland code enforcement project, to try and help the city realize what’s going on and figure out how we can help the city enforce the codes.”