Selections from our community newspaper, serving the communities of Greenfield, Hazelwood, Lincoln Place, Hays, and New Homestead
Have you gotten one of those letters or postcards lately, offering to buy your house when it wasn’t even for sale? Why do you think that happened? What goes through your mind?
“I wonder how much money I could get?”
“I really need to get out of this house anyway.”
“I’m desperate. I can’t meet my mortgage. Maybe this is my golden ticket.”
“Why are they calling me? Do they think they can rip me off?”
If you are happy in your home, and if you are having no trouble making your payments and keeping your house in good condition, you probably just laugh and throw it away.
But if you are like many of us and have too much month left at the end of your money, you may be enticed by this offer. And you may think, “This person is an expert in houses…..they probably know what my house is worth. They will give me a fair price.
The Board and Staff of Hazelwood Initiative has become aware that more Hazelwood residents are getting these postcards and letters more than ever before. And it’s no surprise, really. With all the speculation about what will be coming to the “Hazelwood Green” (formerly the LTV Steel brownfield), lots of people think there is a fast buck to be made here in Hazelwood. Speculation that Amazon may be interested in Hazelwood has only heightened the rumors.
So, what should you do if you own a house in Hazelwood, if you’re having trouble making ends meet, and someone sends you a letter out of the blue asking to buy your home? Here are our best suggestions:
1. Don’t do anything quickly! For almost every one of us, the house that we own is the biggest investment of our entire lives. And it is the one that provides the roof over our heads. Never make a quick decision about your house.
2. Instead, seek advice—talk with people you trust before you decide what to do. Is there someone that you know and trust who understands houses, taxes, interest rates, property values, budgets, and all of the financial tools that play into making a decision about your home? If you feel alone and uninformed when making this kind of a decision, it can be terrifying! If you don’t have anyone you can talk to, why not give Hazelwood Initiative a call and speak with one of our staff about your situation? HI’s first priority will be to help every Hazelwood resident make the best decision to protect their home and their ability to live affordably in our community. Our number is (412) 421-7234.
3. Take stock of your personal finances. How are you doing each month, and how does your housing situation play into that? Are you falling behind? Are you thinking that your house is just too much? Perhaps you have unpaid property taxes (many of us do), and your house needs work that you just can’t afford. Once again, talking with someone you trust is the right idea here. Hopefully you have a trusted advisor or family member to help you work through this. If not, Hazelwood Initiative can refer you to one of our many non-profit partners who can help you answer all kinds of questions, such as how to find reputable contractors, how to find grants and loans for home improvements, how to stay in your home when faced with foreclosure, how to do repairs that reduce your monthly utility bills, how to responsibly borrow from the value that is in your home to stay in your home, and many more. Sometimes, the answer may be that it is the right time to sell your house. Other times, it may make more sense to stay and find the resources to re-invest so that your monthly costs can become more manageable.
Kris DiPietro has been a part of the Hazelwood Initiative (HI) board for about nine years until recently reaching the end of her term. A few weeks ago, Kris came into the HI office to have a conversation about the Hazelwood Initiative board and the community it serves. She discussed various topics ranging from the diversity of the board to the engagement of the Hazelwood community around housing and development.
HI began as a maintenance taskforce that aimed to clean up parts of the neighborhood, hold positive events, and to create a newspaper, now called The Homepage. The board that was present then was considered a working board since there was not enough staff to do the work, though it has now changed to a governing board, which oversees the whole organization and deals less with daily operations. Around that time, the board also started to become more diverse in race and age. They wanted to include a wider range of perspectives, while having the board be more reflective of the neighborhood’s overall diversity. In addition to the board's changing nature and makeup, Kris also noted that the past four years felt like the most productive for the board in terms of HI’s planning and preparation around development.
In the midst of the board's growth, there was more interest being taken in community development and Kris recognized the need for more community participation. According to her, “there was a 5k race that was done and, really, those things were not so much about raising funds as they were engaging the community, getting people involved.” In 2002, the purchase of the 178-acre brownfield by four local foundations gained the attention of residents and the community began to wonder about opportunities that might arise from it. The development that is happening in Hazelwood could be “an example on how development happens in the future”, says Kris. To prepare for these changes, HI began hiring more staff and studying development in other neighborhoods such as South Side, Homestead, and East Liberty to learn from their success as well as their mistakes.
Providing people with opportunities to give to the community is very significant, as there are people who care about the neighborhood and they want to share that passion. There is potential here and Kris hopes that residents “recognize the potential of the people and the community…the potential of the beauty that we have here. We need to have partners who come with us… we don’t need saviors,” she says.
She stated that “we need to realize that everyone here has something to offer and that's what's important. Just because someone may be poor or vulnerable or disabled or a person who struggles every day, doesn't mean that they don't have something to offer.” Increasing support and opportunity in the community creates a positive atmosphere where more people can contribute. It’s what makes the community stronger and brings it together which is why community planning is important as well.
Before this recent neighborhood planning effort, HI's purchase of the Gladstone school sparked a fresh series of meetings where residents came together to plan how to transform the huge vacant school building into a community asset. Many saw the potential in the building for affordable housing or space for music programming for Center of Life. The purchasing process to buy the school was challenging due to private investors trying to buy it. Kris, as well as many others in the community, played a big role in the purchase and acquisition process.
They had to fight to get the school, even being required to testify multiple times during the process. One of the most powerful things Kris said was, “when we went to the last meeting right before they were going to make the decision and there was a woman who said ‘you have to give this to the community, you have to sell it to Hazelwood Initiative.’” Another resident, Dylan Rooke, had his guitar and he sang a song about why the community deserved to get the school. The community came together in hopes of helping HI to win the bid. In the end, HI ended up purchasing the school, and plans to continue working with the community to determine its best use.
Kris explained that being a part of the board has shown her a lot about the community and has made a positive impact on her personal life. She felt that it helped her to grow and it made her realize that there are a lot more people in the neighborhood that want to help, just as she does. Specifically, she claimed, “it helped me really see that there are a lot of people who really care deeply and passionately about Hazelwood and, you know, sometimes you feel like you're the only one out there, but you're not. There are a lot of people who are like you that want to give, give as much as they can give.”
Over the next two years, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Association (PWSA) is tearing up Junction Hollow Trail between Four Mile Run and Boundary Street in order to fix Four Mile Run’s storm water management issues that have been going on for years. The restoration of the trail has many alternative conceptual ideas in the hands of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservatory (PPC), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and Michael Baker International Urban Design Studios. Karina Ricks, director of the department of mobility and infrastructure in Pittsburgh, is a leader in this project. She is anticipating a large increase in Pittsburgh residents and traffic that will hopefully be combatted alongside the storm water management fix.
For 12 years, residents of the Run have brought their flooding concerns to the City. The Run has experienced many major, life-threatening floods but nothing has been done about it until now. Although there has been $41 million budgeted to fix the storm water problem, the city seems to have recently found a convenient way to create a ‘better’ connection from Hazelwood, Greenfield, and the Run to Oakland and Squirrel Hill along side the fix. Coincidently or not, the Mon-Oakland mobility plan has sprung up at a time of expected influx in traffic, and not during the first 12 years of flooding issues.
A very heated public meeting held in Greenfield on January 18th presented the menu of options for possible restoration projects of the Junction Hollow Trail. There will certainly be a restoration project to get the trail back in place, but the new design, no matter what, will not be like the old one. It is up to the affected communities to voice their opinions of the mobility and connection options that Michael Baker International presented. First, the mode of transportation on the path will be upgraded. There is the opportunity to have driverless busses, electric busses with a driver, and E-bikes. A portion of the trail will be available for the many pedestrians who use the path without issue already. In addition, the trail could follow an alternate route and not be exactly in the same place. Potential alternatives were presented and discussed by community members, with each proposed route intersect with different residential areas and public parks in various ways. To learn more about the many options and to voice your options you can go to www.mon-oaklandmobility.com, but be sure to attend the next meeting on February 22.
The Hazelwood Green project is omnipresent and it is difficult to ignore the timing of the Mon-Oakland mobility plan. Why did it take 12 years to finally address storm water management in Four Mile Run, only to be discussed alongside a convenient path of transit that could be created between the Hazelwood Green (where it is known that Carnegie Melon University has space for a robotics lab) and Boundary Street (a street that connects to CMU)? The first order of business is to fix the flooding problem. Next, residents want a solution that preserves the parks, is safe, non-polluting, and doesn’t increase traffic. However, with the expectation of Hazelwood Green to be a massive boost to Pittsburgh’s economy and Second Avenue traffic, the Mon-Oakland mobility plan could help to address that before it is an issue.
In this time of huge change to the historic neighborhoods in this area of Pittsburgh, it is important that residents who will be affected voice their concerns. Nobody knows the ebbs and flows of your community like you do, so the companies creating these alternatives have a lot to learn about how these neighborhoods function. What we know for sure is that there will be an influx of traffic and commuters coming from the Hazelwood Green site once it’s developed. Space for housing units and CMU labs have already been determined, and the Hazelwood neighborhood looks to continue developing its stock of vacant land and houses to accommodate more residents. Many have linked Amazon’s interest in Pittsburgh with Hazelwood Green as a landing site, but the lack of transparency around the City’s proposal adds a layer of uncertainty for the future of mobility on the site.
How do we address concerns of flooding and mobility without harmfully disrupting existing neighborhoods? Since Hazelwood Green lies in Hazelwood, many residents from other neighborhoods expressed that they want to hear what Hazelwood residents want and fear. Come to the next meeting, which will primarily be about the Second Avenue to Hazelwood Green to Hazelwood connection, on February 22. Don’t let your community be forgotten.
Four Mile Run’s flooding issues will be fixed, but the city’s interest stems from the possibility of advanced modes of travel for the projected future residents of the Green. Make sure that Hazelwood stays involved in the conversation and becomes more easily accessible by the other neighborhoods.
In the depths of winter, the promise of the coming spring seems forever out of reach. The bitter cold and drifting snow gives the garden soil a rest, but these winter months are busy with planning for next year as gardeners browse seed catalogs. Your Urban Ag Team has been planning a slate of workshops to share skills and knowledge with our community. The season begins on Saturday, February 24th with a citywide Seed Swap at the Carnegie Main Library in Oakland, where folks can get free seeds! This will be followed up on Saturday, March 10th, when our own Hazelwood branch will set up light-trays and plant indoor flats.
The transfer of the YMCA facility to Hazelwood Initiative will give us the opportunity to offer garden bed allotments to residents who wish to have a place they can call their own, to grow what you want! While this means we lose the supportive programming and staff that the YMCA has provided over the past few years, the ability to provide garden bed allotments is a big step forward for urban gardening here in Hazelwood. Anyone can apply for a bed, you can ask for Librarian Mary Ann or Artist-in-Residence Edith Abeyta at the Library, or inquire at the Hazelwood Initiative office.
Throughout the growing season the Urban Ag Team is planning a series of seasonally relevant workshops, with topics geared towards beginner gardeners who wish to learn the art of growing their own food. These workshops will be free to the public, and provided with support from Grow Pittsburgh and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Look for announcements in the Homepage and on community bulletin boards throughout the neighborhood.
The Urban Ag Team's next meeting will be Thrusday, February 21st at 6PM in the Library.