Creating affordable housing in Perry Hilltop


Photo courtesy of Robin Alexander
Board members and staff of the Perry Hilltop Citizen Council gather in front of Oakglade’s new office. (Left to right: Zeba Ahmed, Rachel Canning, Dwayne Barker, Janet Gunter, Betty Davis, Joanna Deming, Robin Alexander and Gia Haley)

By Robin Alexander, PHCC board member

The Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council (PHHC) and Oakglade Realty have reached an innovative agreement that they think will serve as a model for creating affordable housing in the neighborhood.

“Oakglade believes that we have a role to play in stabilizing our neighborhood,” said John Rooke who, with his brother Pete, is co-owner of Oakglade Realty.  “It is far less expensive to rescue buildings that are deteriorating than to build new housing.  So, our goal is to take abandoned and deteriorating housing and make it into affordable rental units.”

So far, the two brothers have created 150 units in Perry Hilltop and are in the process of creating their own office and community center at the intersection of Wilson and West Burgess Street in the former Lucas Market building.  Across the street they have supported the restoration of the Josh Gibson park, an initiative begun last summer by Zeba Ahmed, then a Pulse fellow and now Community Engagement Coordinator for the Perry Hilltop and Fineview Citizens’ Councils.

“Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council believes that we need to encourage development in our neighborhood but in a way that protects people who already live in our community,” said PHCC President Rachel Canning.  “We knew of Oakglade’s social commitment and approached them about partnering with us. When we asked if they would be willing to include provisions to ensure that the property remained affordable, we were delighted at their response – they were completely open and said, ‘Let us know what you suggest!’”

With the assistance of Regional Housing Legal Services Attorney Bob Damewood, the two organizations quickly reached agreement.  Oakglade will rehab a property located on Holyoke Street and maintain it as affordable housing according to the provisions of section 8 or an equivalent program.  After 10 years, PHCC or another non-profit it designates has the right to buy it back for what the rehab cost Oakglade plus 20%.  In the event that PHCC chooses not to exercise its option, nothing will change unless Oakglade decides at some point that it wishes to sell the property.  At that time, PHCC can still exercise its option to purchase under the same conditions.  If it chooses not to do so the property may be sold, but only to a purchaser whose income does not exceed the average for the City of Pittsburgh.

While saving housing one building at a time will not be enough to deal with the 30,000 vacant or abandoned houses in the City of Pittsburgh, the agreement has already served as the basis for a second home rescue on West Burgess.

“We are talking about real people who are our neighbors and the importance of affordable housing on their lives,” said Robin Alexander, a PHCC board member who was actively involved in developing the agreement.  “We are also working with the Fineview Citizens Council to ensure that none of the Allegheny Dwelling tenants have to leave our neighborhood.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these houses can become the new homes for some of those families?”

The Perry Hilltop Citizens’ Council (PHCC) is a non-profit organization that was established in 1962.  Our mission is to stimulate civic and social action on a non-sectarian, non-partisan and interracial basis to benefit all residents and to improve the quality of life for all residents and business enterprises within our neighborhood.  For more information please contact Program Manager Joanna Deming at 412-689-0704.

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