When Gerald McClendon had to move out of his apartment in 2018, he didn’t know then that it would be a blessing in disguise. Gerald had lived in East Liberty most of his life but never thought he would own a home in the neighborhood. However, at the suggestion of our executive director, Maelene Myers, Gerald began working with Circles Greater Pittsburgh to fix his credit and get everything in place to become a homeowner. In less than a year, he closed on his home in East Liberty’s Enright Court and now has his own place to call home close to all of the places he loves in the neighborhood.
Read on for Gerald’s path to homeownership.
How did you first get involved with ELDI?
I lived in Mellon’s Orchard Apartments, which ELDI owned and managed. When they let all of the tenants know that they would be redeveloping the property into new affordable housing, it was a moment for me to stop and consider my future. One of my dreams was to become a homeowner one day, but I knew that first I had to get a few things straightened out credit wise. That’s when I talked with Maelene (executive director, ELDI). She told me; “You know Gerald, once you get things together, I think Enright Court would be a great option for you. There are nice townhomes there, not too big, probably within your budget. You’re qualified for different funding. That would be a great fit for you.” To me, it sounded perfect, because I work at East Liberty Presbyterian Church and I don’t drive so living there would put me close to work and everything else—all the restaurants, stores, etc. I decided then that that was going to be my goal.
What were the next steps?
The year that I moved out of Mellon’s Orchard I was able to stay with friends and save some money. I also began working with Circles, per Maelene’s suggestion. I spoke with Tammy Thompson (director of Circles Greater Pittsburgh) and they started helping me fix my credit.
“Once I got serious about it, things really took off and started happening fast.”
How often were you meeting with Circles?
I was meeting with them face-to-face about once or twice a month, but I was calling them two or three times a week. I said, “Boy, I know I’m getting on their nerves.” But eventually, everything came through. I fixed my credit and got a pre-qualification for my mortgage with Citizen’s Bank. That was in January of 2019. I started the process around November of 2018. Once I got serious about it, things really took off and started happening fast.
What else did you do before you got into your house?
I took homeownership courses through Circles at Repair the World. Those were really helpful and informative. They brought in guest speakers that gave me so much information on stuff that I had no idea about since I had never owned a home before. The things I learned are still coming in handy now. For example, I remember them telling me that once you do get in your house, you’ll get bombarded with scams from companies telling you to refinance. Now I’m getting all those letters and remembering their advice.
Before I moved into my place, I also had a couple of one-on-ones with Tammy and Brettney Duck (community coordinator for Circles) to go over things that I should be prepared for. We talked about the importance of keeping some savings in case something happens as well as a lot of other points. They really go hard for you. They want to see people getting into homes, and then they stay with you even after you’re in. They follow up and check on how everything is going. I felt really supported throughout the whole process.
You moved into your home in June of 2019. How does it feel to be a homeowner?
Oh, it’s just great. It’s great waking up in my own home. I can do things. I can fix things up the way I want. I am at peace now. I pinch myself sometimes and say, “Wow, this really happened.”
I love my neighborhood too. It’s an up and coming area. The people around here are great, and this is just the beginning as Enright Court is a work in progress. ELDI is still working to rehab some of the townhomes. I think within the next year or year and a half, Enright Court will be booming.
What do you think in general about East Liberty and its revitalization?
I was born and raised in Homewood-Brushton but have lived in East Liberty for most of my life. I lived in the Penn Mall Apartments for 18 years, and before that, I was living in one of the high rises. You hear so much negativity about all the stuff that’s going on in East Liberty, but I try to explain to people that low income or moderate-income people deserve to have nice places to live too, and that’s what ELDI is trying to do. Some people are saying, “You know, they’re trying to push everybody out, the poor people, the black people.” While market values have gone up, a lot of people have come back. I think everyone was afraid when some of the redevelopment started, not knowing that they had a chance to move back. People don’t like change. They get set in their ways. Even, in some cases, when they’re living in horrible conditions, which was the case for many people in the high rises and for some people at Penn Plaza too. Sometimes, change is for the better though, and I see a lot of the old faces back in the neighborhood now.
“ELDI and Circles really goes hard for people who are trying to do something. They want to see people getting into homes, and then they stay with you even after you’re in. They follow up and check on how everything is going. I felt really supported throughout the whole process.”
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of this process?
I think it was how everyone just stuck by me. I ran into some bumps in the process and sometimes I wanted to give up, but Tammy, Bretteny, and Mary Hester (assistant director of land recycling, ELDI) were always there for me. I had to wait on funding, on stuff from the URA, on paperwork—there’s a lot of stuff that went into it—but it all paid off. As a matter of fact, at my closing, staff from the URA and the Housing Authority were there, which they said was really unheard of. They said, “We’re so glad you got this house.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m just so impressed by how Mary, Tammy, Bretteny, and everyone at ELDI and Circles really goes hard for people who are trying to do something. ELDI is working behind the scenes, and they just don’t get enough credit for the things they do, for bringing people back to the neighborhood and helping people like me who simply don’t make a lot of money find homes. That’s the hard work.
> Want to learn more about affordable housing in Enright Court? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.