By James Paul
Deep in Hazelwood, a sleepy house came alive on Sept. 14. Music floated into the long-abandoned halls and children scampered across the lawn at the first of three grand openings for the much-anticipated Equity One-Stop Shop Resource Center.
Nonprofits People of Origin Rightfully Loved and Wanted – known as POORLAW – and Praise Temple Deliverance Church celebrated the completion of phase one of their efforts to convert the old Church of the Good Shepherd and attached building at 124 Johnston Ave. into a community-oriented resource center. The first step included renovating the former clergy housing into a three-bedroom affordable rental unit that the developers hope to move a family into in October.
“This is our first project and it's a development project for the community, by the community and with the community,” Saundra Cole-McKamey, president and CEO of POORLAW, said. “Building community, you got to be with the people of the community.”
The pre-grand opening featured a DJ booth, food and beverages. City Councilmember Barb Warwick and members of Hazelwood Initiative were also in attendance.
Pastor Lutual Love of Praise Temple Deliverance Church said phase 1 entailed acquiring the property, fixing the roof and renovating the residential space for a total of $520,000. The former clergy residency is ready for occupancy and three families are already interested in moving in, he said.
Pastor Love said the rent for the refurbished housing will be between $1,200 and $1,400 and go toward paying back a $330,000 loan from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. He noted all profits will be recirculated to keep the resource center afloat and said the housing is intended to “fill a void” in Hazelwood.
“That void is the marginalized and disenfranchised people of our community, you know, that people usually walk past and don't speak to or don't see,” Pastor Love said. “Those people, those are the families we're reaching out to first and foremost.”
The other phases include portioning the two-story hall connected to the house into affordable office units for local nonprofits and opening part of the space as a community center. Additionally, they will renovate the commercial kitchen on the first floor and Pastor Love is relocating his congregation into the former Church of the Good Shepherd sanctuary.
The entire project is expected to cost $1.7 million and is so far funded through various loans and grants. Pastor Love said there is a current funding gap of $175,000 – down from $500,000 in July – and is confident they will be able to bridge it.
Once complete, the resource center will centralize a wealth of Hazelwood nonprofits including a notary service, an autism support group and the first brick-and-mortar home for POORLAW, Pastor Love said.
“So, we said, ‘OK, why don’t we develop a resource center?’” Pastor Love said. “And in the Resource Center, we are providing all types of services that are needed in the community, mainly and starting with the services that the community organization already provides.”
Ms. Cole-McKamey said until recently, Hazelwood was Pittsburgh’s “best-kept secret,” but now with incoming development, that secret is out.
The owners of the 178-acre Hazelwood Green tapped a New York development firm last year to fill the space with offices, housing units, parks, retail shops and restaurants, reported the Trib.
Additionally, the University of Pittsburgh plans to begin construction of a massive biomanufacturing facility in the same space this fall.
Ms. Cole-McKamey said she views incoming development in general as a good thing but is wary of the gentrification that so often comes with it. In building the Equity One-Stop Shop, she said she wants to include the community in that growth.
“Hazelwood is on a horizon at this point, you know what I mean, and we just really want to make sure that the people in our community don't feel displaced – that's our main concern,” Ms. Cole-McKamey said.
Councilmember Warwick said she is excited to see the Equity One-Stop Shop come to fruition. She said after a “decade or more of disinvestment” into Hazelwood, she wants to see the people who live there benefit from its growth. She touted the project as a step in the right direction.
“We want to make sure as development grows in the area, it benefits the people who are living here today,” said Councilmember Warwick, who represents District 5. “Whether that's financially or just quality of life.”
In addition to the Equity One-Stop Shop, POORLAW is partnering with GH-CARED to construct the Sarah Dixon Innovation Center, a grocery co-op and commercial office building for the 4800 block of Second Avenue, Ms. Cole-McKamey said.
“A lot of times, developers come in and they don't hear what the people are saying, they're willing to develop the community, but not the people,” Ms. Cole-McKamey said. “So we saying hold up, let's develop the people too so that when we rise, we all rise together.”
This story was made possible through the Pittsburgh Media Partnership fall internship program. James Paul is a University of Pittsburgh student and a Pittsburgh Media Partnership editorial intern.