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Mon Valley needs newcomers to revitalize, officials say

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The consensus among Allegheny County and state officials and economic-development types is that if many of the old steel mill towns of the Mon Valley are to make a comeback, the valley not only needs key revitalization dollars, but people like John Potter.

The Valley, they say, needs longtime residents or even newcomers who are willing to buy new and refurbished homes in downtrodden neighborhoods of communities like North Braddock and Braddock.

On a balmy afternoon last Thursday, Mr. Potter, 74, a longtime North Braddock resident, stood under a shade tree as state and county officials lauded him for buying a new house in the municipality.

Mr. Potter, a retired Ford Corp., supervisor, is the first buyer of one of six single-family detached homes being built along North Braddock’s Baldridge Avenue, and financed by a collaboration of state, county, and regional nonprofit agencies.

The six new houses comprise the new development known as the Braddock Field Housing Development in North Braddock.

“Isn’t it great talking over construction noise? I love it. It’s much better than talking over silence,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato told a group of residents and officials who gathered at the construction site during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This is what it means to build new. We want to have an impact. We’re not talking about building just one house. We want to build entire blocks of new housing,” Mr. Onorato told the group of about 30 residents and officials.

The new housing project in North Braddock together with the East Braddock Housing Development in Braddock is the latest revitalization initiative by a consortium of public and nonprofit agencies.

The project, officials said, represents an investment of more than $10 million in high-quality affordable housing for more than 50 families in the area.

The consortium consists of a number of Allegheny County and Pennsylvania state departments, the Mon Valley Initiative, and the Braddock Economic Development Corp.

“Braddock’s Field will spur the revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding Library Street and Jones Avenue. Our goal is to help revive these once prosperous communities through affordable home ownership, elimination of blight, and an increased tax base,” said Laura Zinski, executive director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

The houses in North Braddock are being sold for $70,000, of which $15,000 will be a “soft,” or subsidized, second mortgage, held by Allegheny County, explained Doug Van Haitsma, real estate development director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

In Braddock, the group of officials, which included Brian Hudson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and Pennsylvania Treasurer, Robin Wiessmann, launched the renovation of two historic buildings on Corey Avenue, which will make available 17 new apartments.

The Corey Avenue project will also see the demolition of four dilapidated buildings that will make room for the construction of two duplexes and a single family home.

The houses in Braddock will be sold for $52,000, with the same financing scheme as those in North Braddock, Mr. Van Haitsma said.

“Dan Onorato has not forgotten the Mon Valley and we are so appreciative of that,” said Jesse Brown, president of the Braddock’s council.

“We were waiting for many years to see some things happen here and now we see [the houses] coming,” Mr. Brown said.

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at or 412-263-1719 . )

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