Staff at ELDI were thrilled to celebrate the ribbon cutting of Cornerstone Village last month. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the 150 unit apartment complex, which spans East Liberty and Larimer, now includes an 85-unit first phase and a just-completed second phase. With two more phases to go, it’ll eventually have around 330 homes and apartment units. Cornerstone Village’s apartments will be mostly reserved for families below certain earnings thresholds, with roughly one-fourth to be rented at market rates.
From foreclosure to new opportunity
But before it was Cornerstone Village, the site was home to East Liberty Garden Apartments, and in 2005, the complex was in the early stages of foreclosure. That’s when ELDI was approached by Mr. Floyd Coles, the lone member of the East Liberty Garden’s board, to help save the property. Working with the local HUD office, we took over management of the property with the aim of stabilizing it for current tenants and guiding its long-term redevelopment as an affordable place to live in the neighborhood. To accomplish this, we engaged with board representatives from each of the founding board organizations (East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Eastminster Presbyterian Church and the Kingsley Association), the property, and the tenants. Stabilization included tasks such as repairing sidewalks and lighting, setting up an office on-site, and addressing a $500,000 water bill.
Fast forward to 2007 and the property was fully stabilized, financially sound, and had an active board. The board and churches worked together to build a brand new playground and hosted an annual Christmas party for the tenants. But this still didn’t change the fact that the building was beyond its useful life and the future of the property and its tenants needed to be addressed.
Enter the Choice Neighborhoods grant. By 2010, the nearby neighborhood of Larimer had been trying for years to secure grants to redevelop the long-divested neighborhood. After several failed attempts at securing funding, they decided to tackle the $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant with the help of many partners including the City, the Housing Authority, ELDI and many others. The Choice Neighborhoods grant is a highly competitive federal grant that demands a one-for-one replacement of existing affordable housing in addition to creating mixed-income housing, while also providing resources for “people” and “neighborhood” improvements. However, in order to qualify for the grant, Larimer needed a minimum number of public housing units which they were far from meeting.
Ensuring no one is left behind
ELDI’s work to save and stabilize East Liberty Garden Apartments was key to the successful application for the $30 million Choice Neighborhood’s Grant. The grant has since spurred multiple phases of mixed-income development in Larimer and East Liberty, including the Cornerstone Village Apartments which just opened its doors to tenants. Throughout the redevelopment process, the Choice team worked tirelessly to ensure that the current residents of East Liberty Gardens were not left behind. Residents of East Liberty Gardens were assigned active case managers to assist with relocation. With this assistance, nearly two-thirds of the residents have secured units in these new developments, much of it just one block away from their former homes.