Bnaisreal photo courtesy of Preservation PIttsburgh.

A plan to convert the historic B’nai Israel Synagogue in Garfield into rental housing could take a step forward this week.

On Thursday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) will consider authorizing two loans totaling $1 million to Catalyst Communities LLC, the developer, for the first phase of an $18 million rehabilitation of the building at 327 N. Negley Ave.

Beacon Residential Management will be the property manager for the “North Negley Residences” with 45 rental units.

According to a URA agenda proposal, Catalyst is working with Desmone Architects, Clio Consulting and Mistick Construction on the initial construction phase, which involves adding two stories to the building’s wings. Additions had been made to the wings in the 1950s.

B’nai Israel Synagogue. Photo courtesy of Amy Fisher, board member of Preservation Pittsburgh.

Thirty-eight of the units that are built will be designated as affordable housing for a 40-year period and rented to households with incomes at or below 30 to 60 percent of the area median income.

The project’s second phase will involve restoring the rotunda for neighborhood-serving community use. The URA loans won’t apply to that phase of the project. Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation will manage the rotunda use.

The sanctuary rotunda, with its arched entrance, was built in 1923 and has been vacant since 1995 after Congregation B’nai Israel merged with Beth Jacob Congregation of New Kensington to form Adat Shalom Synagogue in Fox Chapel.

The attached community building most recently housed the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh charter school, which bought the property in 2001. The city’s oldest charter school, it split from the Urban League in 2015 and moved to East Liberty as Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh.

Catalyst Communities was founded in 2019 by Michael Polite, the CEO and chairman of Ralph Falbo, Inc., to pursue new construction, adaptive reuse and preservation projects. Boston-based Beacon Communities, which develops affordable housing, is Catalyst’s primary investor.

The Pennsylvania Housing Financing Agency (PHFA) has awarded the housing project $1.25 million in funding and last year agreed to low-income housing tax credits for the first phase. The project also has $870,000 in gap financing, and 10 housing choice vouchers from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. According to the URA presentation, there will be a $6.6 million construction bridge loan.

The URA board is awaiting final drawings and construction costs, as well as a go-ahead for the project from its engineering and construction team. The board will hold a virtual meeting at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, which is open to the public via Zoom or by calling 1-929-205-6099 and using the access code 94108094643#.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.