The Bulletin: Community Development in Garfield


Community Development Updates by Rick Swartz, BGC

 

Council to consider bill allowing “granny flats”

City Council will take up legislation this month to allow a second dwelling unit to be added to single-family homes in a large portion of Garfield. Homeowners and homebuilders will have a two-year trial period to see if it is feasible to convert a basement, garage or third-floor attic into a second apartment, or tuck a “granny flat” into a newly-built house, as ways to make owning a home more affordable. The homeowner would need to remain the primary occupant of the house for as long as the unit is rented. The area of Garfield under consideration extends from Allegheny Cemetery on the west to N. Aiken Ave. on the east. Penn Ave. would not be included in the district. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for July 25, at 2 p.m., in City Council chambers.


Modular home approved for lot in 400 block of N. Graham

The Garfield neighborhood could see the construction of its first modular home this summer on a lot at the corner of N. Graham and Hillcrest Sts. Module, Inc. received approval from the city zoning board in May to erect the house, which will be built in sections in a factory and shipped to the site. A homebuyer for the unit has already been identified. Brian Gaudio, a principal in the firm known as Module, has said he would like to build additional, for-sale homes in other parts of the neighborhood.


Open Hand Ministries ramps up activity in Garfield

Open Hand Ministries, currently renovating a single-family home at 208 N. Fairmount for a working-class homebuyer, appears poised to take on renovations projects at several other locations in Garfield. Pairing up with East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI), Open Hand has its sights set on re-doing houses at 4752 Kincaid St., 310 N. Fairmount St., 5521 Broad St., and 233 N. Aiken Ave. ELDI has managed to receive a commitment award of federal tax credits that will reduce Open Hand’s construction costs by as much as 20%, which will help keep their homes affordable to families earning under $40,000 per year.


Possible help from City Council for Fort Pitt School and Field

Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess told two representatives from Garfield community groups last month that he will try to get the city to commit as much as $50,000 to seed efforts to plan for the future of Ft. Pitt School and an adjoining ballfield. The school has sat empty since 2011. A letter sent in March to school Superintendent Anthony Hamlet by Brothers and Sisters Emerging, Valley View Presbyterian Church, and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation requested collaboration from the school district in creating a facility that could be used by both the district and the community. The letter has gone unanswered. Brothers and Sisters, which organizes the Garfield Gators football program every fall, is concerned about the deteriorated condition of the field’s grass surface, and would like to see artificial turf installed in its place.


City says “no” to paying for remediation of Broad St. hillside

Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, Dan Gilman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June that a landslide which occurred in February behind a group of homes in the 5400 block of Broad St. was not triggered by what many residents feel was a poorly-executed house demolition the city oversaw last July. Four homeowners saw their houses condemned initially by the city after a portion of the hillside fell away from their homes. The occupants of two of those homes were able to return to them about a month later, but the other two owners have been forced to accept housing elsewhere. The point of origin for the landslide appears to have been the lot where the demolition work was done. The question remains as to who will take responsibility for reconstruction of retaining walls at both the top and the bottom of the hillside. The retaining wall that ran along the top of the hillside was knocked down by the demolition contractor the city hired last year to raze a house and rear garage that had been condemned at 5472 Broad St.


Garfield Land Trust moving forward with incorporation

After almost two years of planning and engagement of neighborhood residents, the Board of the Garfield Land Trust is readying articles of incorporation for filing this summer with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The land trust’s mission will be to find ways to create an inventory of housing in Garfield that is permanently affordable for lower-income individuals and families. A business plan is also being prepared that will have a variety of strategies the trust’s Board can use to achieve this goal. In a somewhat related move, City Council has approved Mayor Peduto’s nominees to the first advisory board for the Housing Opportunity Fund. The fund will have a stream of up to $10 million annually in city tax dollars that groups such as the Land Trust will be able to use to achieve their mission.

The Bulletin: “Vacants” in Garfield

Vacant, abandoned houses continue to dog Garfield neighborhood

Story by Joe Reuben, Bulletin contributor

Garfield – While many would say that conditions in the neighborhood have improved dramatically in recent years, Garfield remains saddled with a large inventory of vacant, seemingly abandoned houses. According to Rick Swartz, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation’s (BGC) executive director, his organization’s staff recently conducted a survey of most of the neighborhood’s streets, and it revealed at least 131 empty houses, many of them in deplorable condition.
“There were more ‘vacants’ than what we were expecting to find,” Swartz told The Bulletin. “While a number of them have been in that condition for a decade or longer, it’s alarming to find others that may have joined the list only within the past five years.”
Swartz pointed to four houses, all within two blocks of Penn Ave., that illustrate the plight the neighborhood faces when trying to eliminate the blight and potential danger such properties pose to neighbors. A single-family home at 5010 Dearborn St., owned by David and Marcia Grenick, is on the BGC’s list. Public records show reveal that the Grenicks use an address in McKees Rocks for receipt of their county tax bills, but evidently stopped paying years ago.
“The county has scheduled the property for Sheriff’s Sale on March 5th to try to recover over $18,000 in delinquent real estate taxes owed to the county, city, and school district,” Swartz noted. “Even if someone were to bid to buy the property, the deed they’d receive from the Sheriff’s office may not give them a clear title. There could well be thousands of dollars in liens owed to other parties who may still expect payment.”
He went on to say that, even if a private party were to pay $30,000 or $40,000 in the end to secure clear title, the house at 5010 Dearborn may need anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 to make it a desirable place to live once again.
“That’s where the risk of gentrification comes into play, because a private investor will want to push the future re-sale price for the property as high as he or she can, in the expectation of making a profit of 10 to 20%, or more, after the renovations have been done,” Swartz contended. “That price could be double the price of what any other property in the block has sold for previously.”
The city has tried to contain the spread of blight in neighborhoods like Garfield by coming after tax-delinquent owners of vacant properties, he explained. The Urban Redevelopment Authority offers to “tag” such properties, if the community group so desires.
When they are tagged by the URA, the city must then decide if a public sale is warranted. If it agrees, then the property goes to what is known as “Treasurer’s Sale,” an auction held in City Council chambers once or twice per year; the next one is set for August. However, as Swartz cautioned, this may not be the solution to eliminating blight.
“On our list of vacant houses, there are eleven that the city took either at our request or the URA’s”, he disclosed. “But, it takes the better part of two years before the process of public taking has run its course. In the meantime, the property could fall victim to the elements and become so dilapidated that the chances of renovation become practically nil.”
Swartz pointed to three vacant houses situated at 4911, 5137, and 5349 Broad St. “We’ve seen the interiors of 5137 and 5349 Broad. To restore either of these homes could well cost $200,000 or more. If we were to take on either project, the subsidy we would need to make them affordable – for purchase by someone earning under, say, $50,000 a year – would be in the vicinity of $100,000. The U.R.A. does not have that subsidy to give to us or anyone else at this point in time.”
Ultimately, unless there are private investors who are willing to spend the necessary money on renovations, and then attempt to sell them for $250,000 or more, he said, what may happen is that all three homes will have to face the wrecking ball. Demolishing the structures would result in vacant lots. Even if a neighboring owner wanted to buy the property from the city, they might have to wait a year or longer to finalize the sale; “not exactly an encouraging prospect,” he added.
Although Mayor Bill Peduto promised late last year that a “land bank” would be operational by early spring of 2018, the city’s efforts to start the land bank have been stalled for almost four years. Proponents see the land bank as a mechanism to move vacant, abandoned properties that the city has already acquired in a much more expeditious fashion than the otherwise lengthy disposition process.
Swartz said the “jury is still out” on whether the land bank will fulfill those hopes, but acknowledged that a more effective land banking process could spell the difference between salvaging abandoned & foreclosed properties, and losing them forever.
He relayed that it is up to the BGC’s housing and land use committee, which is open to anyone who wants to help attack problems like these, to determine whether or not to try and acquire eight to ten of the most salvageable houses.
To obtain a copy of the BGC’s list of vacant houses, contact Tyler Wheeler at Tyler@bloomfield-garfield.org. To join the housing and land use committee, contact Nina Gibbs at Nina@bloomfield-garfield.org.

Homebuyer Education Workshop

NeighborWorks Western Pa. and PNC Bank will co-host a FREE presentation for potential home buyers on Saturday, October 13, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Learn how to take the right steps to homeownership! Location: Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, 5324 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224. Lunch will be provided. To register, call 412-281-9773 or 412-281-1100 x100.

 

Garfield Glen Breaks Ground

After much anticipation, Garfield Glen had its official groundbreaking ceremony this morning.

Partners in the project and public officials including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Councilman Ricky Burgess, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle grabbed shovels to symbolically break the ground at one Garfield Glen site on Dearborn Street.

 

Garfield Glen, an affordable rental development, is a joint initiative of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation and S&A homes. It will consist of 45 rental units, which will be a mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom Energy Star-rated homes.

The units will be located on sites throughout Garfield between N. Mathilda and N. Atlantic.

Garfield Glen will be open for rent to households earning less than $35,000 for a family of five, $32,000 for a family of four, $29,000 for a family of three or $26,000 for a two-person household.

Garfield Glen Groundbreaking

The community is invited to a groundbreaking for Garfield Glen, an affordable rental housing development on scattered sites in Garfield. Join us for refreshments and speeches at 11 a.m. on Friday, February 24, at 5131 Dearborn Street (Look for the tent!). RSVP by February 17 to Aggie@bloomfield-garfield.org.