Penn Mathilda Apartments complete facade
Silver Eye's new home will anchor the corner of the Penn Mathilda Apartments. Photo by Nathaniel Rice.

Bloomfield now boasts one of the most attractive and sustainable affordable housing projects in Pittsburgh with the Penn Mathilda Apartments.

ACTION-Housing’s Penn Mathilda Apartments have been completed at 4812 Penn Avenue, bringing 39 units of affordable housing—half reserved for veterans and all of them leased—to Bloomfield. The $11 million development currently has two arts-based tenants, Assemble and Level Up Studios, which will be soon be locating within the 6,000 square feet of commercial space.

Penn Mathilda Apartments art
Glass sculpture “New Seeds” designed by Adam Kenney hangs in the lobby.
Glass sculpture “New Seeds” designed by Adam Kenney hangs in the lobby.

Neighborhood art has been incorporated as an important part of the design. Artists at the Pittsburgh Glass Center created glass pendants for all tenant kitchens and local artist Ben Grubb fabricated the geometric balcony on the front of the building. Adam Kenney and local glass artists created a custom sculpture in the lobby of the building and there is a custom bike rack designed by mossArchitects, the architect for the project.

“We’re extremely excited about the opening of Penn Mathilda, because it’s proof that affordable housing can be beautiful, sustainable, and desirably located,” says Lena Andrews, planning and development officer at ACTION-Housing. “It’s our goal to make this the norm, not the aspiration, for affordable housing in Pittsburgh.”

The Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation will be leasing 900 square feet for a satellite office to continue their mission of increasing community participation in neighborhood revitalization efforts. Educational arts nonprofit Assemble is moving from its long-time home further up Penn Avenue and will occupy 1,700 square feet in the development.

“The new space gives us a blank slate to think creatively on how we can optimize our space so that we can best accommodate the variety of programs that we offer to children and adults,” says Minette Vaccariello, one of Assemble’s board members. “We will have the opportunity to expand our programming so that we can deliver more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education and programs to our community.”

The final confirmed tenant (the building still has one more commercial space available) is Level Up Studios, which offers dance instruction, design and creative writing services, as well as urban apparel inspired by hip hop culture. It will occupy 1,300 square feet.

“Moving into the Penn Mathilda building has been great, the space is beautiful and the residents are very supportive of the work we do for youth in the community,” says Mario Quinn, co-founder and director of Level Up Studios.

The location in the heart of the East End  is well-served by transit and bike infrastructure and within walking distance of many stores. The building blends in well with the commercial corridor along Penn Avenue and has high ceilings and large windows that allow lots of natural light inside.

Penn Mathilda Apartments interior kitchen
Daylight streams into one of the units at the Penn Mathilda Apartments. Photo by Nathaniel Rice.

The project was funded with a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, tax credit equity from the National Equity Fund (NEF)/BNY Mellon, and funds from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Grants from the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a loan from Bridgeway Capital were used for development of the commercial space.

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.