For almost three years, the rare, 100-year-old condo building at 736 North Ave. in Wilkinsburg had no hot water or heat.
Three of the eight units were vacant and two had liens that totaled more than $100,000, with owners who wouldn't respond to requests from the condo association.
"We almost lost the building," said longtime resident Rolynda Ford, whose advocacy of one vacant condo -- along with upstairs neighbor Suzanne Nuss' advocacy of another -- got the attention of the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County.
Because so many liens were owed to the borough, the redevelopment authority's program to clear the title took some convincing, but Wilkinsburg council eventually voted to approve letting the building go through the county's Vacant Property Recovery Program.
All eight units are now owned by people who pay condo association fees. Ms. Ford was able to buy the unit she is in now and Ms. Nuss bought another of the vacant units. She intends to sell one and stay in the other.
"I made the case that this place was viable," Ms. Nuss said.
Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp., said the condo building is one of the oldest to have been built specifically for condos, early in the 20th century. Another like it across the street was demolished in the 1990s.
The condos' dining rooms are wainscoted in tiger oak, and pocket doors separate the living and dining rooms. The kitchen floors are hand-laid tile. Each bathroom has mosaic tiling and tile lines the stairwells, whose treads are made of cork.
Each condo is one story, with spacious front windows and a sun room in back off the kitchen.
Several layers of concrete block between floors ensure that a resident could play loud music or even racquetball without disturbing others.
The condos have been assessed from $17,000 to $55,000.
When Ms. Nuss moved into the building in 2005, she began attending meetings and found out about the county's program when she met Ms. Evans.
"We didn't have enough funds to fix the boiler," Ms. Ford said, recalling days of wearing sweaters and using space heaters.
"And we couldn't get money from a bank because the building was deemed a hazard" due to its empty units, Ms. Nuss said.
"I was trying to get No. 4 for nine years but I could never get in touch with the owner," Ms. Ford said. "They weren't willing to relinquish it but they weren't paying condo fees. This program has been truly a blessing for me."