Affordable housing in Pittsburgh

I worked in a team of four students in a seven week project researching Section 8 Housing in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, we presented our findings to representatives from several Pittsburgh nonprofits. We were also selected to present to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. We hope that our research will inform future policy change in local government as well as nonprofits, to positively impact those in need of a home.
View the full report here →

Methods + Collaboration

My team members were Imogen Todd, Cesar Neri, and Nila Banerjee. We worked collaboratively and divided up tasks among the four of us – for example, we conducted six interviews and each of us took the part of interviewer, note-taker, and transcriber at least once. Additionally, I was responsible for the document design.

In this project, my team wanted to gain an understanding of the different situations that many applicants face when trying to find affordable housing in order to improve the experience. To that end, we conducted domain research and interviews, distributed surveys, and created models and diagrams to represent our findings.


We focused on the experiences of those who applied for the Section 8 Housing voucher, which allows private landlords to rent apartments and homes at fair market rates to qualified low income tenants, while the landlords are paid a subsidy.


We conducted seven interviews in total; 3 expert interviews and 4 contextual inquiries. "Expert" interviews were those with people who had higher level knowledge about the process: someone who worked at a non-profit helping applicants through the process, a landlord participating in the Section 8 program, and the director of the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh.

Contextual inquiries were with people who had gone through or attempted to go through the Section 8 application process. These were people who the program was supposed to help; they were direct stakeholders, and the four we interviewed were LGBT youths who had gone through the process of trying to find Section 8 housing in Pittsburgh. The diagrams above are user journeys mapping out the experience of these applicants from different points of view, based on these interviews.

Personas we created of different stakeholders as well as a stakeholder map, based on the people we interviewed.


We created storyboards based on our key findings to illustrate some possible scenarios to alleviate the issues. Our proposed solutions were based on the ideas of promoting attitudes of self-suffciency, increasing connections to other resources and programs, and encouraging graduation from the program.

Further Steps + considerations

If we were to continue this project, we would start by interviewing a more diverse set of individuals in need of housing and organizations involved in the Section 8 process to more specifically find breakdowns within the system. Furthermore, we would look at other cities and other contemporary programs to understand how they have handled housing shortages and perhaps use their policies to inform our solutions, and continue the project to actively try to affect change in these systems.

As our research currently stands, the greatest priority for the city seems to be the lack of housing and employment options for low-income residents. Working to ameliorate both of these would help Pittsburgh ensure that its residents are not forced onto the streets.