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.