On November 1, 1975 at St. Lawrence O’Toole Roman Catholic Church in Garfield, the Rev. Leo Henry gathered parishioners, business people, and residents of the Bloomfield and Garfield neighborhoods. As he observed a community spiraling downward from a decade of physical and economic decline, he felt compelled to do something to address its future.
Father Henry challenged his audience that night to help him launch a community organization that could confront the neighborhood’s growing problems. Scores of volunteers would help drive a program of advocacy, planning, and revitalization activity in the Penn Avenue commercial district and the surrounding neighborhoods. Using the sale of $5 membership “shares,” he made each person a stockholder in this new engine for change. Over 500 of those shares would be sold in the weeks and months to come, and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation was officially born in January of 1976. That month, Father Henry also launched the Bloomfield-Garfield Bulletin, a community newspaper to “promote a spirit of community.” With the community behind it, the BGC began work to reverse the neighborhood’s decline. With the support of the community and an $85,000 investment from Pittsburgh City Council, the BGC began working to reverse the neighborhood’s decline.
Since those early successes, the BGC has continued fighting for the health of the community. Highlights include:
BGC completes last of 48 single-family new homes built in Garfield over a 12-year period in partnership with Garfield Jubilee Association; all homes were subsequently sold to buyers earning 80% or less of median household income
BGC graduates a class of 80 high-school students from its College and Career Readiness Program
BGC serves 78 children with after-school programs it operates at Arsenal Elementary and Woolsair
BGC begins discussions with ACTION-Housing, Inc. around plans for mixed-use development at an abandoned site at Penn Avenue and S. Mathilda Street.
BGC leads community effort to secure a “Bottom Dollar” food market at Penn and S. Pacific Avenues, removing Garfield from the list of so-called “food deserts”. Store opens in summer of 2015, only to close 6 months later, along with several other stores in the region.
BGC begins discussions with S & A Homes around the possible construction of a second phase of affordable, single-family rental homes in Garfield.
BGC obtains $750,000 in grants from local foundations and the Urban Redevelopment Authority to invest in a new, mixed-use development being built at Penn Ave. and S. Mathida St. Funds are to be used to build out four storefronts that will be rented to arts-related organizations.
BGC and S & A Homes receive award of federal tax credits from PA Housing Finance Agency that will enable the construction of 19 new rental homes on scattered sites in Garfield.
BGC, working in tandem with Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, receives commitment from Aldi food chain to open grocery store in space being vacated by Bottom Dollar at 5200 Penn; Aldi will undertake renovations to building in time for an opening in the fall of 2016.
BGC graduates class of 136 high-school students from its College and Career Readiness Program and services another 130 students in its summer youth employment program.
BGC, working with neighborhood residents, commissions a study by Western PA Conservancy of open spaces and wooded areas along upper part of Garfield; study will determine potential for creating a so-called “green zone” that would open them up for residents to access and utilize.
BGC and Gatesburg Road Development, a subsidiary of S & A Homes, begin construction of 19 new rental homes on scattered sites in Garfield; homes will subsequently be leased to households earning 50% or less of median household income as 2nd phase of “Garfield Glen” development.
BGC assists ACTION-Housing with leasing four storefronts created on ground floor of mixed-use development at Penn and S. Mathilda St.; Silver Eye Center for Photography, LevelUP Studios, and Assemble all sign leases for space in new building.
Western PA Conservancy completes its study of Garfield’s hilltop area and concludes area has great potential for use as a “green zone” if it can be stewarded by community interests; Study is presented at a community meeting for input and recommendations as to first steps.
BGC graduates class of 144 high-school students from its College and Career Readiness Program and recruits another 122 students for its summer youth employment program.
City of Pittsburgh completes 2 ½ year overhaul of first section of the Penn Avenue commercial corridor; Project delivers new roadway, new sidewalks, new street lighting, and better pedestrian crossings, among other amenities, to the 4800 to 5100 blocks.
BGC finishes 19th year of hosting monthly “Unblurred” gallery crawl and performance night on Penn Avenue; the First Friday event was originally conceived by Friendship Development Associates (FDA) in 1997, and was co-hosted by the two groups until the FDA closed its doors in 2013.
BGC leads community effort to persuade Port Authority Transit to re-establish bus service to upper part of Garfield after it was canceled in abrupt fashion in 2015.
BGC and Friendship Community Group, together with several other parties, win a ruling from PA Commonwealth Court that overturns a decision by Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James allowing the Gumberg real estate firm to develop an AutoZone store at Penn and S. Negley Aves. Judge James had reversed a 7-page decision by the city’s zoning board to deny the variances the Gumbergs were seeking for the project.
BGC leads citywide push begun in 2015 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use; Pittsburgh City Council votes in February to make this a summary, as opposed to a misdemeanor, offense.
City and community interests begin planning for second phase of public spaces improvements to a 4-block stretch of Penn Ave. between Evaline and Graham Sts. Project is targeted for a 2021 ground-breaking, and will include new roadway, street lighting, sidewalks, & pedestrian crossings.
BGC joins Friendship Community Group and Enright Park Neighbors Association in petitioning Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to allow the organizations to be interveners in the lawsuit filed by the Gumberg development interests against the city over the delays in approving their plans for a new Whole Foods store and parking garage at the site of the former Penn Plaza Apts. Judge Joseph James announces in October of 2017 that an agreement has been reached among the parties that sets the terms for allowing the Gumberg project to move forward, while providing for the reconstruction of Enright Parklet next to it. Settlement also includes creation of an East End “Affordable Housing Fund”, to be administered under the auspices of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
BGC and Gatesburg Road Development apply to the PA Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) for an award of federal tax credits that will help fund a third affordable rental housing development, Garfield Highlands, to be built on scattered lots in Garfield; PHFA turns down application in July of 2018, and again in July of 2019, despite support from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office. Award is finally made in July of 2020 after BGC seeks the help of state Sen. Jay Costa in getting the PHFA to approve the project.
BGC finishes 2nd year of hosting Garfield Night Market that allows small vendors and other groups to set up tables or tents in 100 block of N. Pacific Avenue and market their wares and services to people coming to the “Unblurred” event on the first Fridays of the months of May through September. On average, over 20 entrepreneurs and organizations participate monthly.
BGC graduates a class of 130 high-school students from its College & Career Readiness Program, and services another 145 students through its summer youth employment program.
Aggie Brose steps down in December from her position as deputy director for the BGC, ending a
42-year association with the organization, which began with its founding in 1975.
BGC joins a citywide effort led by Pittsburgh United to press the city to start its own fund to better address the housing needs of working-class individuals and families, and the growing scarcity of affordably-priced housing in the city. City Council votes in December to authorize the use of a half-percent increase in the deed transfer tax to make $10 million available annually for a new fund to be administered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
BGC makes the decision to give up providing after-school programming for children at Arsenal Elementary & Middle Schools and Woolslair Elementary School after a consultant’s report shows the BGC losing over $35,000 annually because of chronic underfunding of the programs by outside agencies.
BGC makes the decision to assume operational responsibilities as of July 1st for the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center (ENEC) after the ENEC’s board votes to transfer all programming and fiscal duties to the BGC.
BGC graduates a class of 85 students from its College & Career Readiness Program but its main funding source, Partner4Work, serves notice that the contract for 2019-20 will likely cut in half the amount of money the BGC will receive to continue the program. A second organization in Garfield has put in a bid for funding in 2019 to serve the same population of students.
BGC renovates a home in the 4900 block of Broad Street and sells it to a homebuyer earning less than 80% of the area’s median household income. The BGC also begins planning for renovations toa vacant house at 5213 Gem Way that it purchased from the city in 2017.
BGC enters its fifth year of helping Garfield Community Farm cement its future in the neighborhood by acquiring vacant lots from the city and transferring ownership of them to the Farm at cost. To date, nine lots have been assembled by the Farm through this process.
BGC and city secure approval from Pittsburgh City Council for experimental zoning overlay that would allow a homeowner in Garfield to add another unit to their property for the purpose of generating income back to the owner. Overlay district was set to expire in fall of 2020.
BGC ends its 8th year as the manager of the “Neighbors in Need Fund” by distributing $14,265 in grants to 30 individuals experiencing economic hardship or a financial crisis.
The BGC agrees to sell a vacant lot in the 5400 block of Black St. to Module Housing LLC so that the firm can build an affordably-priced, single-family home as part of a 3-unit development. It represents the first time the BGC has joined with a private developer to produce below-market rate, for-sale housing in Garfield.
BGC starts a matching grant program for low-income homeowners in Garfield whose homes need critical repairs or improvements, thanks to a grant from the PNC Foundation. The funding will cover 23 grants to eligible homeowners over the next two years.
The board of the BGC makes the decision to cut administrative overhead by pursuing the consolidation of its two offices on Penn Avenue into one. An ad hoc committee is formed that begins to look at alternatives as to where the BGC can put its entire staff under one roof.
BGC concludes its 44th year of the uninterrupted publication of The Bulletin newspaper. Produced monthly and mailed to 13,000 households in Garfield and four surrounding neighborhoods, the tabloid-sized paper helps residents and business owners stay abreast of the latest events, developments, and programming in the community.
BGC, in its first year operating the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center, provides assistance to 332 individuals in search of jobs, health insurance, financial aid for college or vocational training programs, and a host of other opportunities to advance their economic standing. Ninety-six residents are placed in full- or part-time jobs.
BGC graduates a class of 44 students from its College and Career Readiness Program, a drop-off of almost 50% from previous years, as the organization contends with a much smaller contract from its main funder, Partner4Work.
BGC arranges tour of vacant Fort Pitt School with neighborhood stakeholders and city schools’ Superintendent Anthony Hamlet in an effort to persuade the school district to turn over the neglected building to the community. Hamlet decides against the proposition two months later.
BGC applies for and receives a grant from the McCune Foundation that will enable it to create offices for its staff in its Community Activity Center at 113 N. Pacific Avenue. Staff moves into the renovated facility by year’s end.
BGC applies for and receives a two-year grant commitment from the Heinz Endowments that allows it to hire a coordinator for the Garfield Green Zone project. It is part of an initiative to have persons arrested for summary offenses assigned by district magistrates to help beautify the neighborhood.
BGC arranges financing to pay for over $500,000 in improvements to the Montana Apts., a complex owned by a related non-profit entity. The work will preserve the 16-unit building as affordably-priced housing for the next 30 years. BGC arranges $110,000 loan from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to make improvements to 11-unit affordable apartment complex at 5635 Stanton Avenue (co-owned with the Highland Park Community Development Corp.).
BGC graduates a class of 42 high-school students from its College and Career Readiness Program. The organization provides summer job internships and classroom trainings for 92 students to learn the demands and rituals of the modern-day workplace.
BGC joins coalition of community groups and businesses to help residents cope with the ravages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prepared meals and distribution of food boxes are organized each week for the benefit of several hundred residents in Garfield and adjoining neighborhoods. Grants totaling $28,455 go out to 71 households from the Neighbors in Need Fund.
BGC receives $589,000 grant commitment in December from Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for the Garfield Highlands rental development, scheduled to start construction in late 2021/early 2022.
BGC serves as fiscal repository for $12,000 private donation to help pay for legal fees and planning expenses incurred by the Garfield land bank in its quest to obtain tax-exempt, charitable status from the IRS.
BGC moderates two neighborhood meetings around 10-unit, single-family, for-sale housing development that a private developer, Module Housing LLC, wants to build in 5100 block of Rosetta Street. BGC ultimately decides to support the Urban Redevelopment Authority entering into negotiations with Module that will give the developer the exclusive right to buy nine city-owned parcels for the project. No agreement has been reached between the community and Module to support the development of the ten homes themselves.
Boom Concepts, a collaborative formed to support minority and women artists in the region, moves to become an in-house program of the BGC. BGC had been a fiscal sponsor for Boom since it came to Garfield in 2014.
BGC decides to shift away from the modular construction of three new homes, with accessory dwelling units, planned for the 5300 block of Hillcrest St., in favor of stick-built construction. The project is scheduled for a spring 2022 ground-breaking after 4 years of planning and fund-raising for the development.
BGC graduates a class of 50 high-school students from its College and Career Readiness Program, a slight increase from the number of graduates in 2019 and 2020.
BGC enters into an MOU with Rising Tide Partners, Inc., a newly-formed non-profit, to assist the Garfield community in assembling vacant houses and land parcels from owners who are deemed to have abandoned them. The two groups will use the tool of conservatorship to attempt to wrest some of these properties away from owners who fail to step up and assume responsibility for their condition. A first petition for conservatorship is filed at Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on a property at 5307 Kincaid St.
The BGC sells two properties located at 5203 Columbo St. and 438 N. Fairmount St. to City of Bridges Community Land Trust. The land trust will demolish the Columbo St. house and build three affordably-priced townhomes in its place. It will renovate the Fairmount St. duplex house and sell it at a below-market price to a first-time homebuyer.