By Meg St-Esprit

Pittsburgh’s Avenues of Hope initiative to revitalize neighborhood business districts in historically Black communities got a financial boost from the state to jumpstart projects across the city.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, along with the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation, will receive $654,310 in grant funding as part of the Keystone Communities Program. 

To improve the facades of buildings in targeted business districts, $150,000 has been allocated. Small businesses will receive matching grants to help support needed repairs to storefronts. The Homeowner Accessibility Program for Independence will receive $300,000, which is earmarked to assist homeowners with necessary upgrades to their homes. The program is currently accepting applications.

In the Hill District, $204,310 will be used to construct two townhomes on Rose Street. The three-bedroom units will be made available to families who are at or below 80% of the area median income. Four market-rate units will also be built as part of the Center Avenue Corridor revitalization project through the URA. 

In October 2020, the URA launched the Avenues of Hope community revitalization project, offering financial assistance to business owners, construction of affordable housing and facade renovation in the following areas: Centre Avenue, Chartiers Avenue, Homewood Avenue, Irvine Street (2nd Avenue), Larimer Avenue, Perrysville Avenue and Warrington Avenue.

“Avenues of Hope is more than a singular program or project. It is an initiative that helps us intentionally prioritize Black economic inclusion and community development throughout our work,” URA Deputy Executive Director Diamonte Walker says. “If we want to ensure Pittsburgh is the most livable city for all, we must support these anchor corridors and surrounding neighborhoods by investing in existing small businesses and residents in a way that ensures Black wealth building and cultural preservation occurs.”

Since its inception, Avenues of Hope has helped to launch several businesses and created affordable housing units across targeted development areas, including: 

— The CARES CommuniTEA Cafe in the Hill District, which offers a community gathering space as well as job training for youth in the community. 

— In Homewood South, the Givner Building will house two retail spaces and six affordable rental units. Four of those units will be available to renters making at or below 50% of the area median income, and two units will be marketed at 80% of the area median income. 

— In the Hill District, Big Tom’s Barber Shop has received support to relocate and expand into the former site of Hamm’s Barber Shop, which is an iconic building in the neighborhood. 

Avenues of Hope’s stated goals is to create Black-owned centers of Black arts and culture, as well as improving the health of communities through education, medical care, senior care, supportive services and recreation. The funding provided through the state grant will further these objectives. 

In total, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that $5 million will be granted to community projects across Pennsylvania. 

“We are grateful to Gov. Wolf and our partners at the state for this investment in building equity in our communities. This funding will support programs and resources that create opportunities for inclusive, community-driven development so that our neighbors and neighborhoods can realize their vision for the future,” Mayor William Peduto said in a statement. 

The Avenues of Hope website tracks other projects, including a proposal by The Sankofa Group for the Centre Avenue corridor in the Hill District that will include a $9 million construction of a 45,000-square-foot, three-story commercial space and parking lot. The first floor will house Smoketown Culinary at Sankofa Square, which will serve as a launching site for local entrepreneurs in the food industry. The development’s additional floors will be available as office space.  

Meg St-Esprit is a freelance journalist based in Bellevue. Find her on Twitter or at her website.