Ar’tice Coleman stands in front of one of the many forgotten houses on Woodland Avenue in Brightwood. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)

 

Just as the first two foundations have been built in the Washburn Square redevelopment, Brightwood already has its eye on another, larger housing project.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has provided $50,000 in preliminary funding for the renovation of five houses along Woodland Avenue.

But the plan is just the first phase of what could eventually become the overall rehabilitation of one of Brightwood’s main drags and could involve as many as 10 houses in the next three years.

As lead partner in the project, Brightwood Civic Group members said remediating the effect of slum landlords on the 1100, 1200 and 1300 blocks had long been a community goal. In 2004, the Brightwood Civic Group drafted a neighborhood action plan that counted the remediation of the deteriorating blocks of Woodland Avenue as one of its main goals.

“We focused on Woodland because there was a concentration of difficult properties in those three blocks, more so than on Shadeland or elsewhere,” said Ed Brandt, former director of the BCG. “There’s a lot of investors who buy a house inexpensively in the city. They do no rehab or little rehab, and they rent them out. And they even have this attitude that they’re doing the neighborhood a favor.”

Ar’tice Coleman knows the reality of that kind of “favor.” Not long after she and her husband bought their house in the 1200 block of Woodland two years ago, the house next door was sold in a sheriff sale to a Sewickley man for $4,000.

Now, almost a year later, the brick townhouse still has its windows and doors boarded up.

The 1200 block of Woodland Avenue. (Courtesy Jonathan Huck)

But Coleman said the street has already begun to improve since she moved here. A street that once had significant open air drug activity now has morning joggers.

“With the drug activity that was going on on the street, our neighbors didn’t even want to come out of their houses,” Coleman said.

The BCG set up a block watch program whereby residents put pressure on slum landlords and the owner of the Home Plate Bar. Through the block watch, New Hope Church’s development wing bought the bar and turned it into the Café ‘n’ Creamery in 2008.

“Block watch has focused on getting properties cleaned up,” Brandt said. “In the fall of 2008, we realized that block watch wasn’t enough, and we realized we needed to get into the property acquisition and development business.”

Brandt said the shooting death of Michael Ross in his Brightwood clothing store in 2008 prompted neighbors to take more extensive action to clean up their community.

The BCG partnered with the New Hope for Neighborhood Renewal, the church’s program, and the Northside Leadership Conference to found the Woodland Avenue Revitalization Committee. Members of this committee met with landlords to learn the status of nearly every property in the three blocks.

In November of last year, the group submitted three properties with back taxes for the city treasurer’s sale. Brandt said after 90 days, if the landlord hasn’t paid the owed taxes, the properties enter into a land reserve for the BCG and the community organization gets the option for two years to buy the properties for a very low price.

“A fourth [house] has been requested for the land reserve, and a fifth house has been submitted for the next treasurer’s sale,” Brandt said.

All parties involved refused to give addresses for any of the five houses.

Brandt said the revitalization committee will be meeting with a private bank near the start of March to talk about initial financing to acquire and renovate the homes.

 Jonathan Huck, acting as project manager under the Northside Leadership Conference, said that while Brightwood Civic Group is “crafting the strategy, New Hope for Neighborhood Renewal is a partner [and] they might develop a few of the properties themselves.”

New Hope built five new homes along Shadeland Avenue, which intersects with Woodland, in recent years.

Huck also said although the idea is to sell the houses to families, some properties could be part of a rent-to-own plan.

Brandt said with the preponderance of building projects in Brightwood in the last few years, he thinks the BCG is gaining the activist momentum that has led to neighborhood renewal in such neighborhoods as Fineview.

“I was really skeptical of coming back up here,” said Coleman, who raised her children in Bellevue for much of her adult life. “But because the Brightwood Civic Group has really focused on the area, I know they’re not talkers.”