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Penn Hills Development Group Begins to Bloom

By Tony LaRussa
Thursday, June 10, 2010

President of the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation Erik Hardy, 58, of Penn Hills works with volunteer Colton Sankey, 17, of Plum High School to form a plumb line as they plot out a community garden. The municipality is allowing the CDC to use a parcel of land along Jefferson Road for a community garden in which residents and groups can rent 4- by 12-foot plots for $20. Samantha Cuddy | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Penn Hills’ burgeoning Community Development Corporation took a significant step in its organizing efforts when the state recently designated it as a private, nonprofit organization.

That’s not all. The CDC has a project under way: a community garden.

Since last year, organizers have worked to create an organization to promote the community’s strengths: its location, plentiful and affordable housing, diverse population and parks and other recreation facilities.

Equally important is addressing the poor reputation of the community’s schools, its inability to attract and keep businesses, and the deteriorating quality of life in some neighborhoods caused by crime, poor property maintenance, government-subsidized housing and other factors, officials say.

Working committees include housing, economic development, education, community beautification, public safety and communications. CDC officials are encouraging residents to join the organization and serve on a committee.

“We’ve found that people here have a lot of energy and great ideas for promoting or improving various aspects of the community,” said Erik Hardy, CDC board president. “What we didn’t have was a central place to go to channel that energy and put those ideas into practice. That’s really what led us to form this organization.”

Margie Howard of the Community Technical Assistance Center in Pittsburgh said obtaining nonprofit status from the state is a critical step toward becoming eligible for funding.

Jim Black, standing, Vice President of the Community Development Corporation of Penn Hills, ponders his next move with fellow workers at the municipality's community garden. David Wolf, right, and his son Gregory Wolf, 13, are helping to construct 4 by 12 foot garden plots which residents and groups can rent. Samantha Cuddy | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“You have to have the state designation before applying for federal tax-exempt status,” said Howard, who helped the CDC develop its structure. “There are a lot of state and federal agencies and foundations that require groups to be a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization before they will consider them for grants.”

CDCs operate apart from local government, and money such as federal housing rehabilitation grants are available only to them.

Lack of money has not prevented the CDC from taking on a project its members hope will help spur interest in its activities.

The municipality is allowing the CDC to use a parcel of land along Jefferson Road for a community garden in which residents and groups can rent 4- by 12-foot plots for $20. Municipal officials also have agreed to supply water to the site.

Businesses donated materials, supplies and services for the garden. Penn Hills Lawn and Garden donated soil testing and mushroom manure; Penn Hills Rental provided equipment to clear the site; Hanson Aggregates gave gravel for the access road; and The Home Depot provided lumber, fencing, tools, water barrels and other supplies.

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