Recently renovated housing in Larimer. Photos courtesy of the URA.

While Larimer is still dotted with empty lots and abandoned houses — as it has been for years — there are more homes in the once-neglected East End neighborhood that now look quite different.

They are old houses, for the most part. But with a fresh coat of paint, new windows, roofs, new porches, sidewalk and other exterior repairs, they look nearly new.

Larimer is changing swiftly, and a major reason is an innovative program called the Larimer Choice Neighborhoods Homeowner Assistance Program (CNHAP), celebrated Monday with a walking tour led by Collette O’Leary of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA). The program provided grants of up to $20,000 for roof and facade improvements for 90 owner-occupied houses in the neighborhood.

“The program helped me and others to keep us in our homes,” said resident Eugenia Newman. “I tell my grandchildren that having a home is one thing, but being able to keep it up is another thing. I am very grateful for the assistance that the program provided.”

A house recently renovated in Larimer.

The walking tour highlighted 16 houses that received major repairs through the program.

“Forty percent of the owner-occupied houses in this neighborhood took advantage of this program, to better their community, to make it a better community for all,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

The neighborhood also has three new parks under construction — Village Green, Larimer Playground and Liberty Green.

“The three new parks (are) being built for the community in order to find green space for kids that, a generation ago, didn’t have it — and the opportunity to better the lives of everyone who calls this special neighborhood home,” added Peduto.

The renovation program is part of a $30 million Federal Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) grant awarded to East Liberty by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The total funding for the 90 facades was $1.6 million from the CNI grant and community development block grants. The URA offered technical assistance for inspection work, and to help find contractors.

Recently renovated housing in Larimer. Photo courtesy of the URA.

“Larimer has not been invested in, in 60 years,” said Donna Jackson of the neighborhood’s Larimer Consensus Group.

Now, there are new homes being built in all directions from Larimer, from affordable housing to market-rate. Improvements to the neighborhood’s existing housing stock, however, are crucial to helping the neighborhood turn the corner.

“I think this is a really powerful moment for the city of Pittsburgh,” said Greg Flisram executive director of the URA.

“It’s a really great example of how you do redevelopment and reinvestment at a scale that allows existing homeowners to take advantage of, and be a part of, the rising tide and changing fortunes of a neighborhood — and not be priced out of it. It’s an idea and a model that we’ll replicate throughout the city going forward.”

Additional funding to help homeowners with interior repairs and to address health and safety issues came from the URA, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh (sponsored by PNC Bank), and Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati (sponsored by Dollar Bank).

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.