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Garfield pursues major redevelopment

Monday, April 24, 2000

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In the long view from the top of a Garfield hill, the attributes of the neighborhood are plain. Three hospitals and the jobs that accompany them lay close to the community, and Bloomfield, Shadyside and Oakland unfurl in a carpet toward Downtown, looming like Oz in the distance.

It's a nice view. But lower the sights, and the focus of the community becomes dilapidated row houses, overgrown vacant lots and gang graffiti, mottling the blocks of otherwise well-tended homes. Garfield is situated to join the parade of other successful city neighborhoods on the horizon, community leaders say, but it needs to be jump-started first.

"We need to do something bigger than big," said Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp.

"We need something quick," added Joanne Monroe of the Garfield Jubilee Association, "before the whole area deteriorates."

That something, they say, is a $20 million redevelopment of the community that demolishes more than 100 vacant houses and acquires almost 200 vacant lots, and replaces them with between 100 and 150 new homes and 50 rehabilitated ones.

After two years of planning and meetings, the community groups are currently going to local, state and federal officials to put together the initial financing for the project. Their first target is $5 million for acquisition and demolition of properties, to clear the site for a housing developer that will work with them to redevelop the neighborhood.

The work is planned in three phases, starting with a roughly 15-square-block chunk of the neighborhood dubbed "the Valley" that's dotted with decaying 100-year-old wooden homes, places so out-of-date that their only bathrooms are down in the cellar. Once occupied by Irish working class families, Brose said, mostly "cats and rats" live in them now.

In that first phase about 106 houses are to be demolished, 100 new ones built and 15 homes rehabilitated. In phase two another 25 homes would be built, and in phase three another 50 properties would be rehabilitated. The new and rehabilitated units would be for sale and rent, and be marketed to low- and middle-income residents.

Some of the money for the project, community leaders hope, will come from a Hope VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, via the city's Housing Authority. Such grants, which mix public and private financing to redevelop neighborhoods, have been used by the authority at its sites in Manchester, Allequippa Terrace and soon Bedford Dwellings.

The Garfield Heights public housing development is next. A senior citizen high-rise is already slated for demolition and the 324 family units there -- while fully occupied and popular with residents -- are nearly 50 years old and in need of massive rehabilitation.

The authority is putting together a roughly $35 million Hope VI grant proposal to HUD for the development. Details aren't final but about a third of that grant could go to the Bloomfield-Garfield/Jubilee Association plan, said the authority's special planning director, Christopher Shea, for the construction of replacement housing for Garfield Heights residents.

Coordinated planning won't be simple. But by working together with the community groups, the authority can pursue its goals of synthesizing its residents into the greater Garfield neighborhood and into better-quality housing, while also supporting a wider-reaching redevelopment plan.

Garfield has a lot going for it, Shea said, and the authority wants to help.

"It's one of those places in the city where African-American and white families work together for the good of the community, and great community organizations are working together to dim those lines of race and class," said Shea, who lives in the neighborhood.

A large project such as the $20 million redevelopment planned by the community groups or the $35 million Hope VI grant -- or a combination of the two -- is a departure for the community groups, which in the past have followed smaller-scale rehabilitation strategies.

Between them the 25-year-old Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. and the 17-year-old Garfield Jubilee Association have built or rebuilt about 250 housing units in the neighborhood, but this is the first time they've sought to reform the community as a whole, rather than in segments.

Mayor Murphy told the groups to think bigger six years ago, soon after taking office in 1994, Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. Executive Director Rick Swartz said, but it took them a while to catch on.

"The mayor told us the incremental approach wasn't going to work. Now we're eating crow big time," Swartz said.

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