Pittsburgh Foundation Wages War on Dilapidated Housing
By Kim Leonard
Monday, June 27, 2011
Last updated: 10:43 am
Broken glass still mars one side of the Crescent Building, which fills about one-third of a block in Wilkinsburg. But most of the windows are new, signaling that the century-old building will be ready for apartment tenants before long.
The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation led about 20 borough residents and leaders, plus others interested in how its housing restorations in the Hamnett Place neighborhood are progressing, on a walking tour after an open house on Saturday.
The century-old, red brick Crescent structure off Rebecca Avenue once contained shops and other businesses, plus apartments, but had decayed for decades. That three-story building plus an apartment house, known as the Wilson Building, on adjacent Jeanette Street are being converted to 27 rental units for low-income families, under an $8.6 million project by the foundation set for completion in the fall.
The foundation has restored and sold single-family homes and is working on three more. Its Landmarks Housing Resource Center, which opened in October in a former Packard auto dealership, is scheduling programs to advise residents of Wilkinsburg and other communities on how to maintain and improve their historic homes.
“The idea is for people to take up where we end, on their own,” said Karamagi Rujumba, with the foundation`s real estate development section.
Initial work in the neighborhood is spurring changes, said Josie Bryant, a Wilkinsburg resident and social director at St. James Church, one street away from the Crescent Building. Some Hamnett Place neighbors are adding gardens or otherwise sprucing up their homes.
A neighborhood association and church leaders, worried about abandoned, decaying buildings, approached the foundation and Allegheny County officials several years ago for help, she said. Now that some projects are being completed, “The result is that the people have an interest” in making the area better, Bryant said.
The Crescent and Wilson buildings were on a residents` list of critical buildings to be saved, said Michael Sriprasert, the foundation`s director of real estate development.
Original features such as bay windows are being kept in the Crescent and Wilson structures, and the foundation is maintaining a community garden next to the Wilson apartments site. Restorations at two homes on Holland Avenue and one on Jeanette Street should be completed in about three weeks; they`ll be sold to families that meet income limits, said Dave Farkas, director of Main Street programs for the foundation.
A total of $11.6 million in funding for projects in the borough came from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Scaife Foundations, PNC and Allegheny County.