Neighborhood group transforms, updates neighborhood goals

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A new organization has formed from the remainders of the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development with the goal of updating what gained national recognition for the old organization for more than 30 years.

Called Neighborhood Allies, it will officially launch early next year with the selection of an executive director.

The Partnership was often among the first grantors into projects initiated by community development corporations throughout the city. It served as a conduit between large funders and neighborhood groups and fostered additional investment as a result. But as great as funding needs are, other kinds of support are necessary to make projects investment worthy, said Neighborhood Allies board member Tony Macklin, executive director of the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.

Instead of being at the center of two funnels -- funders and grant recipients -- Neighborhood Allies wants to get on the ground with other support organizations to be a hub, creating networks across disciplines beyond community development nonprofits.

"We've dramatically widened the scope of organizations we want to work with," said Laurel Randi, board chair and senior program officer of the McCune Foundation. "There was also a sense that we needed to refocus on distressed and transitional neighborhoods.

"Our focus will be on maximizing existing resources and not always money," she said.

Mr. Macklin said that before they need grants, neighborhoods that have been left behind for decades need funders to build relationships and connections that provide incentives for other investment. Among the focuses of the Partnership in its last years was to bring 11 neighborhoods together in the southern Hilltop neighborhoods as the Hilltop Alliance.

Before Lawrenceville began experiencing market-rate investments, the Partnership provided grants to help the neighborhood's community advocacy groups build professional capacity.

"A lot of what they have funded has helped Lawrenceville become what it is today," said Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United. "We still have a ways to go, but now it is about care and maintenance. We have systems in place. A lot of neighborhoods could use that [early] support."

The new organization will continue to call for proposals for competitive rounds of grants and loans, but it also wants to "invite quick applications" for gap funding and to help streamline the process small developers encounter with financing and the city's bureaucracy, Mr. Macklin said.

"Another value will be to knit together talent throughout communities and connect people to resources" including arts organizations, social service organizations, anchor services such as Hill House and Kingsley Association and other community-building nonprofits.

Neighborhood Allies' board wants the organization to become a go-to source of connection for neighborhood advocacy groups and even individuals in different neighborhoods who might be working on the same kind of projects.

A current staff of two likely will grow to four or six, Ms. Randi said.

In 2012, when executive director Ellen Kight retired, the board dismissed two other staffers in an effort to retool. At the time, board president John Bendel, director of community investment at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, said, "We decided to restructure, to keep everything at a minimum for a short period of time, to meet our obligations but step back and see where we can chart our course.

"A lot of money has been going into neighborhoods, and there have been pockets of good results, but maybe we need to reassess so it's possible that with the same amount of money we might have more impact."

The Pittsburgh Partnership was created in 1983 by a group of foundations. The agency got most of its funding from foundations and banks. In 2008, it distributed a little more than $2 million. Neighborhood Allies expects to budget about $1.7 million for 2014, $1 million of that for grants.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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