Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

What Aggie Brose & Rick Swartz Want You to Know about Their Neighborhood

Beginning this month, Patrick Doyle introduces people who are making a difference behind the scenes in Pittsburgh. He begins with Bloomfield- Garfield Corporation neighborhood advocates Aggie Brose and Rick Swartz.




photo by tom m johnson

 

After decades of stagnation, the East End faces a new problem: housing prices are outpacing the wallets of longtime residents. Housing prices are up nearly 370 percent in central Lawrenceville since 2000, while the owners of East Liberty’s Penn Plaza apartments are paying low-income renters to move so they can replace it with a higher-end complex. Even ketchup heir Christopher Heinz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he found some prices in Shadyside to be “out of his price range.” Not surprisingly, a recent study showed the city lacks 21,000 affordable housing units for low-income residents. Hence the question: How can Pittsburgh manage neighborhood revival without letting capitalism stampede working-class residents?

One answer can be found on the once-moribund stretch of Penn Avenue that bisects Garfield and Bloomfield/Friendship. For 40 years, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation — led by longtime neighborhood advocates Rick Swartz and Aggie Brose — has pushed a different vision. While passersby might see a neighborhood ignored by developers, Bloomfield-Garfield is choosing affordability and community over glitz. “We don’t think that Garfield has to be the next market-rate housing area,” says Swartz.

“Our goal is to engage with you if you want to develop in the community.”

For the BGC, that has meant playing an active role in creating an affordable, interesting neighborhood. It manages the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative, which aims to attract artists and galleries; the group also has built or renovated more than 200 homes, turning renters into homeowners. The newest crown jewel is the nearly completed Penn-Mathilda Apartments, a three-story, mixed-use building that affordable-housing nonprofit ACTION-Housing Inc. is constructing at the entrance to the neighborhood. The 39 one- and two-bedroom apartments upstairs are reserved for working Pittsburghers who earn between 60 to 80 percent of city median income (veterans also get preference). Those wages, ranging from $31,000-$42,000 a year, once provided stability for a cook or mechanic who worked in the East End to live nearby. Not now.

Lawrenceville’s mossArchitects designed the building, which is both energy-efficient and welcoming — proving that affordable housing can look good, if done thoughtfully. Four ground-floor commercial spaces fit into the broader context of Penn Avenue, providing a location for a restaurant, two retail outlets and community space. ACTION-Housing included parking for residents’ cars and bicycles, as well as a location on popular bus routes. “We’re hoping to facilitate a car-free life,” says Lena Andrews, a planning and development officer for ACTION-Housing. “We’re thinking about the cost of living, literally.”

Building affordable housing isn’t easy — the $12 million for construction costs was met with foundation funding, tax credits and a loan from the Urban Redevelopment Authority — but the need is enormous. Despite little advertising, ACTION-Housing received more than 200 applications in a month. As city leaders who make up Pittsburgh’s new Affordable Housing Task Force discuss the problem, no doubt they’ll look at other cities for models, but they’d also be wise to look to the work of the BGC.

And the area, by the way, is rebounding with completion of the first stage of the Penn Avenue overhaul. Sidewalks have been poured, traffic again flows in two directions, a tea shop, pizza place and Aldi grocery have opened, and restaurants are under construction. “It’s all about making our community a real mix of people,” Swartz says. “Penn-Mathilda is an example of pushing the envelope a little further.”
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Waste Not: Kelly Lane's Fashion Designs are Eco-Chic

After noting how much fabric ends up in landfills, Pittsburgh designer Kelly Simpson-Scupelli found a way to incorporate the unused scraps into her fashion line.

Three Rivers Champion: Sloane Davidson

Davidson started an organization that gives refugee and immigrant families aid based on real, person-to-person relationships, not transactions.

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

PM on KD: The Fall Weddings Issue

PM Associate Editor Lauren Davidson appears on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about the fall Weddings issue.

The Airbnb of Camping Has Started Pitching Tents in Pennsylvania

The startup Tentrr connects landowners looking for extra cash with interested campers.

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

New TV Series Shot in Pittsburgh Area Premiering This Month

See if you recognize any of the locations in the thriller “One Dollar.”

Bocce, Pasta, Music and More Highlight Little Italy Days

Experience Italian culture and cuisine during Bloomfield’s annual Little Italy Days.

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

Come and Explore Wilkinsburg’s Divine History

The Sacred Spaces Tour takes visitors to the borough’s churches, mosques and historic buildings.

Comments

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

“Night of the Living Dead” to Appear on the Big Screen Again

The cult classic will be screened at the Byham Theater in honor of the 50th anniversary of its debut.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Enix Brewing Company Set to Open in Homestead

Owners David and Victor Rodriguez also operate two breweries in Madrid, Spain.

Comments

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

Apteka’s Roasted Sunflower: Summer's Most Interesting (and Instagramable) Dish?

The owners of the Bloomfield vegan eatery introduce a limited run of whole sunflower heads that you can eat like corn.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

6 Best Places to Get Your Nostalgia Fix in Pittsburgh

Ah, the good old days. They may be gone, but there are still a few places where you can get a blast from the past.

Comments

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

The Eight Best Frozen Treats in Pittsburgh

Our dining critic picks his favorite ice cream, ice pop, frozen custard, vegan delight and more.

Comments


Revisiting Fat Head's

Revisiting Fat Head's

The South Side stalwart punches above its weight thanks to good beer and gigantic sandwiches.

Comments

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

TopGolf is Big, Ridiculous, Still Fun

The new driving-range game is way over the top, but the game it's offering is fun and they'll ensure you have a good time.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
In Ben They Trust

In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

Comments

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Steelers’ Saint Vincent Saga Even More Inspiring This Summer

Ryan Shazier's battle back from a paralyzing injury last season and his subsequent rehabilitation from spinal stabilization surgery is a more compelling saga than the Steelers’ quest to reach Super Bowl LIII.​

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The 400-Word Review: Alpha

The prehistoric drama is here to answer a question no one asked about the world's first-ever dog.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The 400-Word Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The light romcom is made for pleasing audiences — and in that respect, it succeeds.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Vintage Details Give Weddings Classic Feel

Combining the old and the new, these couples used their vintage details to create a modern-yet-elegant wedding day.

Comments

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

When Asking for Their Hand Doesn’t Go As Planned

These proposal faux pas serve as a reminder that sometimes things have to go wrong to end up right.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Painting Made Simple: Paintzen Launches in Pittsburgh

Partnering with PPG Paints, the company uses an online platform to match customers with professional painters and provide supplies.

Comments

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Make Your Mark by Entering Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade

Artists have until Sunday to submit their applications to the independent craft fair held annually in December.

Comments