LIBERTY RISING—Developers and community leaders break ground for a new mixed-income apartment building, l-r: James Eby, Mike Doyle, Bart Mitchell, Luke Ravenstahl, Ed Gainey and Beverly Bates. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)

 For years the 160 public housing units of the East Mall high-rise straddled Penn Avenue like the Colossus of Rhodes, an unfriendly 17-story titan further isolating a once vibrant East Liberty from adjacent city neighborhoods.

Though it and its two fellow pubic housing high-rises were finally demolished in 2005, one of East Mall’s footprints remained–until now.
On Nov. 4, officials broke ground for the new $14 million, mixed-income East Liberty Place South, which will bring 52 apartments and 11,000 square feet of retail space to Penn Avenue.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, who worked to redevelop the neighborhood before seeking public office, praised The Community Builders for their efforts.

“Because of your developments, you have removed a lot of the blight out of the East Liberty community, we have reduced crime significantly in the East Liberty community,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it unless we had a partner that was willing to sacrifice, to birth something as beautiful as the new East Liberty.”    

In addition to the apartments, 39 of which have been designated for low-income residents, with six of those set aside for very low-income individuals and those with disabilities, the three-story elevator building will include a club room, roof deck, indoor bicycle storage and repair room, as well as business and fitness centers. The 11,000-square foot commercial space on the ground floor is expandable to 25,000 square feet.

The building is the latest of four mixed-income communities developed by The Community Builders.  The percentage of low-income housing in East Liberty Place South, and in the other TCB properties, was negotiated with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development when public housing high-rises; East Mall, Liberty Park and Penn Circle Tower were purchased in a foreclosure proceeding from Federal American Properties.

Though all residents of the former high-rises were promised first choice to return to the neighborhood, not all have. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh has been able to keep up with the whereabouts of some former East Mall residents, but others did not respond to mailings, or were no longer at the addresses on file.

As part of its arrangement with HUD, the rents for the low-income units will remain fixed, at $530 for a one-bedroom and $620 for a two-bedroom, for 30 years.

“We would like it to benefit everybody in the community,” said the Community Builders CEO Bart Mitchell. “The neighborhood is still redeveloping. And if it does get stronger and stronger, to see that people aren’t going to all get priced out.”

As part of its commitment to the community, Mitchell also announced that The Community Builders is making a $5 million investment in the East Liberty Transit Center project.

The project is slated for completion in September 2014.



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