Hilltop organizations get to brag a little about their accomplishments
Hilltop Alliance executive director Aaron Sukenik explains the work the organization has completed in the neighborhoods at the Hilltop Summit, an annual gathering of the member organizations and stakeholders. Alliance members also took the opportunity to brag a little about what they have accomplished in the past year.
Each year the Hilltop Alliance (HA) brings together member organizations along with neighborhood stakeholders to spread the word on the good work being accomplished on the Hilltop by their groups.
The HA has a mission to preserve and create assets in the Hilltop community through collaboration and coordination of resources. Currently there are seven member organizations: Allentown Community Development Corporation; Beltzhoover Civic Association; Carrick Community Council; Hilltop Economic Development Corporation; Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch; Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation; and, South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.
Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, began the evening by explaining the alliance has been able to focus on community asset based programs and projects. They've been able to get solutions to old problems using innovative thinking and inclusive planning.
He pointed to the Property Stabilization Program with HA's Tim Dolan as one of their successes. Community members attend a monthly meeting or contact the Alliance with problematic properties in their neighborhoods.
Mr. Dolan attempts to contact the owner of the property and have the problems remediated. In some cases, the owners may qualify for assistance in fixing the problems and are referred to the proper agency.
In the last two years, 230 properties have come through the program with an almost 40 percent resolution rate.
Another program of the Hilltop Alliance gaining a lot of attention is the Hilltop Farm at Saint Clair. Site preparation work continued in 2015 with the development of a Master Site Plan, a Start-Up Operations Plan and a Soil Rebuilding Plan developed for the urban farm on the former Saint Clair Village property.
"The relationship between the housing development and the farm amenities really represents an innovative model for public-private operating partnerships in a large scale development," Mr. Sukinek said.
The urban farm will include a youth farm, a community orchard, a community garden, a full production farm and a farmer incubation program along with market priced for sale and rental housing units.
In 2016 the HA will continue working to acquire the property and a capital campaign to "make this dream a reality."
Through a public process, the HA has also worked to complete the Haberman Corridor Plan and McKinley Park Master Plan in Beltzhoover. Haberman Avenue, Mr. Sukenik explained, is a combination of paths, city steps, woods and streets connecting McKinley Park with Warrington Rec Center and the South Hill Junction.
"Having a safe greenway connection between these assets would be a valuable new public asset for the community and it could also really catalyze housing reinvestment as well in the area," he continued. The HA has been working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to assemble some of the vacant overgrown lots needed to create the corridor.
They have also been working with Beltzhoover Community Coordinator LaShawna Russ. Ms. Russ recently completed a comprehensive property survey and facilitates a community forum that meets regularly.
Mr. Sukenik announced at the Summit, that the Hilltop Alliance will soon be offering grants to help Beltzhoover homeowners buy vacant side lots through the city's side yard program. In addition, the HA will provide grants for Beltzhoover homeowners over 50 to get wills.
He explained many of the vacant lots in the neighborhood are the result of the property owners dying without a will and a rightful heir unable to be found.
"Without a legal rightful heir to a property, the cycle of vacancy and disrepair is going to continue indefinitely," Mr. Sukenik said. "We feel a real presence of wills allows for a quick session in ownership and occupancy."
Lastly, he said the Allentown Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) is where the most impact has been realized in the short-term. The NPP is a state tax credit program bringing $250,000 of funding per year for six years into the neighborhood. Additional funding was identified through government and foundation grants to leverage and increase the amount of work being done in the neighborhood.
In the first year: four properties were assisted with renovations and another eight residential properties with repairing code violations; distributed more than 80,000 pounds of produce to 1,812 households as part of the Fresh Fridays program; and, worked with the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. to acquire 21 properties through the Treasurer's Sale process to eventually renovate and resell to homeowners.
In addition, the HA partnered with Brashear association to help 42 individuals find employment, 70 percent full-time, with wages above the federal minimum and assist 311 individuals to connect with assistance programs; Brashear also provided afterschool and summer activities to more than 500 youth through a children's education program in partnership with additional providers: and, the YMCA's Hilltop Computer Center assisted 17 youth recover school credits and worked in the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center with Brashear's summer and afterschool programs.
Another NPP program that exceeded estimates was in the Allentown Business District. The HA facilitated renovations in nine key commercial buildings, helped located and provided assistance to eight new businesses in the Warrington Avenue business corridor with half being woman or minority owned businesses.
Mr. Sukenik announced a new program for 2016 in Allentown: Industry on Industry. Similar to the successful rent abatement program in Allentown, Industry on Industry will provide rent subsidies for artists and makers.
There is an expectation the artists and makers will provide in-kind services such as public art in the amount of the subsidy for a high-profile vacant space in the district.
"I think we can really all agree as seeing more positive reinvestment in the Hilltop than in many decades. As the Hilltop Alliance's work advances we do so sticking with this banner of inclusion, innovation and impact," Mr. Sukenik concluded.
Member organizations made short presentation highlighting the work being done in each of their neighborhoods:
A team of Allentown CDC board members talked about how changing the perception of the neighborhood has brought in new businesses, visitors and events. Clean-up and beautification programs have improved the look of the neighborhood while events including the "Open in Allentowns," Café Con Leche's FUERZA, and Startup Weekend Civic brought hundreds of people into the neighborhood for the first time.
Positive publicity across the spectrum about the changes in the neighborhood including the diverse mix of new businesses added to Allentown's improving perception. The neighborhood is gaining a new reputation as a home of innovators that is furthered by the new start-up companies in Work Hard Pittsburgh.
Members of the Beltzhoover Civic Association (BCA) explained their "Feed the Community" program that provides a free hot meal to anyone in the neighborhood once a month April through November at the Warrington Rec Center. In addition, they annually hold a Breakfast with Santa where they provide neighborhood kids a photo with Santa along with a gift and gloves or mittens.
Two neighborhood improvement projects the BCA led this year were: a collaboration with Voices Against Violence and PCRG on its annual whole neighborhood clean-up and the construction of the Dr. Louis A. Venson Parklet at the corner of Gearing Avenue and Chalfont Street.
The Carrick Community Council (CCC) focused on public safety, beautification and special events in 2015. Highlights from the presentation included:
The Carrick Blitz, a concerted effort between the community and city officials to address the 42 worst properties in the neighborhood. The city's first Virtual Block Watch located in the 2600 block of Brownsville Road and the CCC's participation and cooperation in the Carrick Overbrook Block Watch.
The CCC promoted beautification in the community with "The Last Hump of the Month" monthly cleanups, tree tending and mulching and community gardens. In addition, the organization held the annual CornFest in Phillips Park, a kids' Halloween Party and participated in the planning of the Dairy District development.
The Hilltop Economic Development Corporation (HEDC) worked for the completion of improvement at Ormsby Park in Mount Oliver including new seeding, fencing, playground equipment and parking area. Community events included: the Mt. Oliver-Knoxville Neighborhood Partnership Fall Fest; Sweet Saturdays; Hilltop Community Day; and Community Garden Planting and Green and Clean days.
The Mount Oliver-Knoxville NPP Program provided 297 families with holiday assistance; 150 families with energy assistance; served 100 businesses; enrolled 13 students in the Student Conservation Program; and installed two blocks of street lighting.
Saint Clair Block Watch
The Mount Oliver/Saint Clair Block Watch succeeded in installing and lighting a flagpole and American flag at the Welcome to the Hilltop sign at Mountain and Wagner.
Work also continued in the neighborhood on the three G-TECH gardens: Saint Joseph's Garden, Patti's Point and the tentatively titled Let's Talk with its stone game tables and cornhole games on Mountain Street.
The block watch also coordinated work days at the gardens and a Pitt Make a Difference Day cleanup in the neighborhood.
Community Development Corporation
Mount Washington had a busy year completing a new residential renovation and acquiring two more single-family homes in need of rehabilitation while creating a pipeline of 40 residential renovation projects. In addition, the MWCDC released an RFP for the disposition of nine residential properties in transitional market areas.
Among the projects completed was working with the Port Authority to postpone Monongahela Incline repairs until after the business district's busy season and with the city to begin repairs to dilapidated infrastructure along Grandview Avenue. The MWCDC unveiled a conceptual design for the Olympia Park shelter house building and installed Emerald View Park's first rain garden to manage stormwater runoff and beautify a park entrance with native shrubs and wildflowers.
South Side Slopes
Highlights for 2015 for the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association included this year's Brosville Blitz Cleanup, Earth Day in South Side Park, StepTrek along with the organization's summer picnic and regular garden maintenance projects.
An ongoing project they chose to focus their presentation on is the Oakley Street Mosaic Steps project at 27th and Josephine streets. The community-driven artist-led public art project has been fully funded through crowd-funding, happy hours and private donations. A temporary mural was painted on the steps beneath the Mission Street Bridge so visitors could appreciate the project during this year's StepTrek.