By Juliet Martinez
Warm light streamed through stained glass windows, bathing the dark wooden pews of the sanctuary. A deep stillness filled the place, as though the remnants of more than a hundred years of hushed prayers still clung to the rafters.
But by the end of the year, the 132-year-old Church of the Good Shepherd and the building attached to it will bustle with life as two Hazelwood community groups turn it into a community center and an affordable rental unit. They are almost ready for their first tenant, but some financial loose ends remain.
The project’s developers are Saundra Cole, president and CEO of People of Origin Rightfully Loved and Wanted, known by its acronym POORLAW; and Pastor Lutual Love of Praise Temple Deliverance Church, and member of the POORLAW project known as the Greater Hazelwood Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Disparities. They have finished phase one, a $120,000 rehab of what was the clergy residence connected to church built in 1891 at 124 Johnston Ave.
The two-story, three-bedroom rental unit that opens onto Gertrude Street has all new appliances and a room on the first floor that could be an office or nursery. In June, the developers said they are in the process of seeking an occupancy permit and certification to accept Section 8 vouchers. A tenant could move in as early as Aug. 15.
Pastor Love said the rent will cover the required payments on a $330,000 loan from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. That loan requires only interest payments for the first two years and will go toward the second phase of the project, which involves replacing the roof, updating the heating and cooling systems, taking down some walls and interior painting.
In total, the project is expected to cost $1.7 million. On June 8, the Urban Redevelopment Authority awarded it $137,000 in Avenues of Hope American Rescue Plan Act funding that Pastor Love said will be used to hire architectural services to design the interior spaces. They also have $500,000 of reimbursement funds from the statewide Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (with a bridge loan from Bridgeway Capital) and a $200,000 1% interest line of credit from the URA Commercial Real Estate program with payments delayed for 20 years. That leaves a funding gap of roughly $500,000. Pastor Love and Ms. Cole said they are planning to apply for several different grants to close the gap.
The One-Stop Shop Equity Resource Center will house POORLAW’s offices, and office and meeting space for other community organizations. But the space was far from ready during a June walkthrough.
Inside the space for the community center, the interior is cluttered with items left behind when the Episcopal diocese closed the church in 2018. Chairs are piled in some of the rooms, tables hold old lamps, hymnals, dishes, and toys. The walls are dingy and a faint, musty smell permeates the space. But it is still better than when they took possession of it.
“We threw a lot in the dumpster,” Pastor Love said, explaining work on that space will get into full swing once they get the URA Avenues of Hope money. “That’s the first thing that’s going to happen: clean it out.”
POORLAW will have its offices on the upper floor of the building, Ms. Cole said, adding that a health center, a notary and a conference room will occupy the rest of that floor with a family-oriented community group taking the lower-level rooms.
The lower level has a full commercial kitchen that includes a multi-level pizza oven that she said still works.
“This is my favorite part,” Ms. Cole said with a huge smile. She envisions a breakfast program with seniors feeding neighborhood kids before they go to school. “This can be a spot for them to stop and get something healthy to eat.”
She said they are considering locating the childcare center originally planned for the Sarah Dixon Innovation Center in the Equity One Stop Shop. The Sarah Dixon Innovation Center is a grocery co-op and commercial office building POORLAW and GH-CARED are planning for the 4800 block of Second Avenue.
Down the hall from the kitchen, a left turn leads into the sanctuary where that soft light shines through windows depicting gentle biblical scenes.
Worship in the historic building was one of the motivations behind the project, Pastor Love said. He sees it as an opportunity to build equity for community residents and groups and expand his church while creating a place for entrepreneurs and community activists to work outside their homes.
“Most of the community organizations we have here are operating out of their own homes,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure we were offering a space that’s always available.”
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.