Six Ward Flats. Photo courtesy of ACTION Housing.

“Affordable housing” and “Lawrenceville” are things that don’t really go together anymore, to an almost absurd extent. The neighborhood is developing a national reputation for its Robotics Row tech cluster (stretching through the Strip District) and its independently-owned shops and restaurants — and prices have skyrocketed accordingly.

Yet, nonprofit developer ACTION Housing was able to create 35 units of affordable housing right at the entrance to the neighborhood at Doughboy Square, where the statue of a World War I soldier stands as a silent symbol of Lawrenceville’s past.

ACTION Housing commissioned a rent comparability study for the area, and found that the average for one-bedroom units is $2,100 a month, two-bedrooms are $2,600, and 3-bedrooms are $2,750.

Recently completed Sixth Ward Flats, however, features one-bedroom rental units that range from $260 to $895 per month. The two-building project replaces a corner vacant lot with a billboard on it and the long-vacant Wilson’s Barbecue building next to it. (This was a spot we had been wondering about for a while, named in our 9 most inexplicably empty buildings story in 2019.) The second, larger building is half a block away (across from The Clemente Museum), and is built on four contiguous lots owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Sixth Ward Flats. Photo courtesy of ACTION Housing.

31 one-bedrooms, 3 two-bedrooms, and 1 three-bedroom unit. The apartments are available to rent for households that make less than 60% of area median income. Eight units are designated for people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

“A number of our units have ADA access — so you have the wider doorways and the and the roll-in showers and kitchen cabinets that have clearance for someone in a wheelchair,” says Senior Development Officer at ACTION-Housing James Eash. “It’s always important in our projects that we create units that are geared towards individuals that need some additional support.”

“I think when we opened the application period, we got about 200 applicants,” says Eash. “It’s one of those things where the demand way outpaces the supply.”

There are no vacancies at this time but applicants can call 412-829-3910 to be added to the waitlist.

The development features 1,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space for community-oriented use, an outdoor patio, secure bike parking, energy-efficient building systems, and other amenities. The commercial space is also intended to be affordable.

Sixth Ward Flats. Photo courtesy of ACTION Housing.

“Long term, the goal with that space really is to allow for small business startups or nonprofits, arts organizations, small local businesses that are getting priced out of the commercial quarter on Butler Street — to allow them to have a space that’s below market rents,” says Eash.

Designed by FortyEighty Architecture and built by Nelcon Construction, the project cost $16,782,774.

Founded in 1957 by Mayor David Lawrence and philanthropist Richard King Mellon, ACTION Housing is a nonprofit housing developer that has created more than 4,500 units of housing since 1985. The organization’s focus is on the needs of low-income households of all types: seniors, individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, the homeless, veterans, and young people who have aged out of the foster care system.

“From from our inception, ACTION Housing has really been centered around housing, providing safe and safe and stable housing … We kind of use housing as that tool to help people live more and more sustainable lives,” adds Eash.

They do more than just build new apartments, too.

“We have a lot of ‘wraparound’ supportive services,” says Eash. “We do weatherization for low-income households, emergency fixes to furnaces during the winter months, things like that. And we run one of the largest emergency rental assistance programs in the state.”

Another big project in a very visible location is starting construction now, next to ACTION’s successful Krause Commons project on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. The development will fill the space once inhabited by the Squirrel Hill Theater — abandoned for over a decade — another entry in our inexplicably empty buildings story.

Flats on Forward. Rendering courtesy of ACTION Housing.

“The Flats on Forward project that is currently under construction in Squirrel Hill will have 43 affordable units and 10,000 square feet of commercial space,” says Eash.

Michael Machosky

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,...