With its numerous one-way streets, it is easy for those driving through Wilkinsburg to find themselves in the Hamnett Place neighborhood looking to turn around. Those who did, like Mayor John Thompson, would be struck by the massive and empty Crescent Apartments and adjacent Wilson House—once beautiful buildings seemingly forgotten. They are forgotten no longer.
Three years ago, the city with the help of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, PNC Bank and the Federal Home Loan Bank began an $8.6 million restoration of the properties.
The partners, including Thompson, County Executive Dan Onorato, and PHLF President Arthur Ziegler, showed them off at a press conference Nov. 14 at Landmarks’ new Housing Resource Center.
“I always thought this was a lovely building. When I first moved here in 1968, there were still folks living there, but I’d never been in that building until today,” said Mayor John Thompson. “I started getting calls form people about moving in as soon as the work started, so I’m very please that Landmarks found the investors to make this happen.”
The project, which required gutting the buildings’ interiors and rebuilding the roofs, has resulted in 27 units of new affordable housing, which means all the units must be rented to residents earning from 20 percent to 60 percent of the median area income.
“The restoration process was very challenging and time consuming, but has resulted in the renovation of two magnificent buildings that will once again be jewels in the community,” said PHLF Director of Real Estate Development. Michael Sriprasert.
Each of the new units, 23 in the Crescent building and four in the Wilson House, feature energy efficient windows and appliances, and offer high-speed Internet access. All are either two- or three-bedroom units, and four are handicapped accessible.
Brian Hudson, executive director of the PHFA, called the project “a triumph.”
The Crescent building also houses a laundry room, storage facilities for each unit, a community room, a computer facility, and an on-site management office, which will also house supportive services offered by Hosanna House.
In addition to the rental properties, the development partners also showed off three newly restored single-family homes for sale in the same neighborhood—two on Holland Avenue and another on Jeanette Street. All feature off-street parking and new plumbing, electrical and HVAC services. They are priced at between $125,000 and $127,000 and will only be sold to those meeting the affordable housing income criteria.
Ziegler said through the cooperative effort of the residents, elected officials and funders, the project succeeded “on a broad front.”
Thompson said not only will the new housing bring new people to the community and boost the city’s tax base, but it will also make the existing housing in that neighborhood more attractive. And all of that is good, he said, because the city is preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.
“The completion date for the Crescent Building is Dec. 15, and people will be moving in January, right in time for the anniversary,” he said. “We’re going to be having events all year long; the symphony will be here, we’ll be honoring historic residents during Black History Month, and we’ll have a gala event in October because that’s when the actual incorporation took place,”
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