After 20 years of grass-roots advocacy that often sounded like a cry in the wilderness, Larimer is getting the big prize to begin becoming the East End’s next big buzz.
When Carol Galante, commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration, announced Monday to a packed room at the Kingsley Association, “I am pleased to announce we are awarding a $30 million implementation grant,” the crowd in seats jumped to its feet cheering as U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, pumped his fist in the air.
The money comes through the Choice Neighborhoods program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Four cities won grants of 43 that applied. The others are Norwalk, Conn., Columbus, Ohio, and Philadelphia.
$30 million grant will help Larimer rebuild
Pittsburgh will receive a $30 million grant in Choice Neighborhood funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It has been earmarked for mixed-income housing and development in Larimer. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/30/2014)
Pittsburgh got all it asked for, to be applied to development of about 350 units of mixed-income housing and mixed-use development in Larimer.
“We were very impressed with the hard work you have done,” Ms. Galante said.
“This is huge,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We are standing at the beginning of more than $400 million in investment” to be leveraged. “We are standing at the beginning of the greenest housing development to be built in the United States.
“But we are not just building houses. We are rebuilding a community.”
City Councilman Ricky Burgess sponsored the bill that council approved last year to commit $12 million in city money to the project over five years, plus $16.5 million from the city Housing Authority.
Besides the Choice Neighborhoods grant, Larimer is getting 40 new multi-family rental units to be built on scattered sites. KBK Enterprises expects to close on the properties with the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 30 days, said KBK‘s city executive Tisha Germany.
East Liberty’s momentum is finally pushing across East Liberty Boulevard, where Larimer has languished with more vacant land than occupied houses for decades. In the early 1990s, a small group of residents began drumming for Larimer as a place worthy of a decent future while many local, state and federal officials weren’t sure it had one at all.
“I remember when I was young councilman in 2004 being in a little church with Miss Ora Lee Carroll,” Mr. Peduto said. The late Ms. Carroll would take politicians on walks past weedy lots, imparting her housing vision to anyone who would listen. “I remember thinking, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of hope.’ But it kept building. People kept asking, ‘Why not Larimer?’ And it happened from the bottom up. Elected officials saw it only because you convinced them.”
The Larimer vision plan was built in community sessions in 2008 and 2009. It calls for ecologically sensitive design including maintenance of the Negley Run watershed and planned green space along with housing.
Mr. Peduto said Larimer’s plan could result in “the entire country looking to us and asking, ‘Why can’t we be more like that neighborhood?’ ”
“It becomes contagious, doesn’t it?” Mr. Doyle said. “There was a time when people thought, ‘East Liberty? East Liberty is gone,’ Then it was, ‘Wow, East Liberty.’ ”
The Larimer Consensus Group and Green Team ran the last leg of the long relay, said Judith Ginyard, a former executive director of the Lincoln-Larimer Community Development Corp. “They carried it to the finish line, but this was a four-legged race that began two decades ago. A lot of people have worked for this over many years. This is a win-win for everybody, especially for the residents who have remained in Larimer.
“I knew this was Miss Carroll’s dream,” Ms. Ginyard said, “and I hope she is looking down on us now.”
As people clambered to pose behind an oversized check for a photo, Betty Lane was pushed and cajoled to join them. She had been early to the campaign with the late Ms. Carroll.
“We said, ‘Oh my God, this cannot continue to happen,’ ” said Ms. Lane, who has lived in Larimer for 43 years. “This [investment] is like a dream come true.”
Six years ago, residents came together with consultants Jackson/Clark Partners to build a community vision plan as the Urban Redevelopment Authority was investing in properties. That led to the Larimer Consensus Group and Green Team.
“To all of the folks of Larimer,” said Malik Bankston, executive director of the Kingsley Association, choking up as he looked at the crowd. “This is about building a future for everyone, not just some. Choice [Neighborhoods] represents one aspect of the work that needs to be done. Equally important are the investments in people.”
Read the full grant summary below.
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk. First Published June 30, 2014 12:00 AM