A view of E. Warrington Avenue.

The Hilltop Alliance has been granted $1.5 million for community improvement and economic development programs in Allentown over the next six years.

An annual disbursement of $250,000 will allow the Hilltop Alliance and its partners to simultaneously extend support to residential property owners, increase adult and childhood education opportunities, expand a fresh food distribution program and create a new business district program, says Hilltop Alliance Executive Director Aaron Sukenik

Though the money will come directly from PNC Bank, Dollar Bank and the UPMC Health Plan, the companies’ investments were incentivized by tax credits from the state’s Neighborhood Partnership Program. The initiative, begun in 1967, aims to create collaborations between businesses and communities that contribute to economic development.

“These [Neighborhood Partnership Program] applications have to be comprehensive in nature. We couldn’t have gotten any single part of this approved without the sum of its parts.”

A rent abatement grant is expected to help attract tenants and stimulate entrepreneurship in the business district. Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop, a food distribution program jointly managed by the alliance and the St. John Vianney Food Pantry, sometimes serves as much as ten percent of Allentown’s population of 2,500, says Sukenik. The grant will allow the initiative to grow by 25 to 50 percent in the next year.

Residents can avail themselves of home-buying workshops, mortgage counseling and if they qualify, facade improvement grants. Sukenik says while the neighborhood has a high homeownership rate, few people have invested in their homes’ exteriors.

“We [have to] get over that perception threshold and encourage property owners to see reinvesting in property in Allentown is a stable investment,” he says. “To say, every dollar I put in here is going to hold its value, that’s the crucial tipping point in community development.”

Over the next six years, Sukenik expects the grant to strengthen Allentown directly and surrounding neighborhoods indirectly.

The 501(c)(3) Hilltop Alliance represents 12 south Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Its community partners include the Allentown Community Development Corporation and the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation. The Neighborhood Partnership Program is an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.