Rashod Brown is a 24-year old black trans man; a sculptor; an animal lover; a graduate of The Art Institute’s special effects/makeup program; a natural leader; someone with a big heart and a bigger smile; a kid who aged out of the foster care system (where he’d been from age 13-21); and a resident of ACTION-Housing’s Uptown Lofts.

He came to the Uptown Lofts MyPlace program through a former caseworker, and has been living in what he calls his “REALLY nice apartment” since June 2015. He credits the building with “giving me a sense of security to know that I can stay here, without worrying about getting kicked out, so that I can work on bettering myself.”

Rashod has built a community inside the building – amongst his friends and his caseworker – but also outside, working with many local LGBTQ organizations, including the Garden of Peace Project, Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and New Voices. “I feel at home here,” Rashod says. “My space is neat and colorful and eclectic, with art everywhere. Just like me.”

Rashod Brown

 

Bob Romito has always felt most comfortable in the East Liberty area, where he grew up. He’s lived many other places (including Italy and Asia) but has always returned to his favorite neighborhood. Most recently, he’s been living in the Penn Plaza apartments, but like all other Penn Plaza residents, he’s being evicted as the building owner redevelops the property.

So he’s moving into ACTION-Housing’s Penn Mathilda Building. 

 

“Staying in the City – and in this neighborhood – is very important to me,” He says. “I have kids, I have grandkids. I like to walk.”

 

He likes a lot of other things about Penn Mathilda, too. “I like that there will be so many veterans in the building. People form good habits in the military. I’m 75 and was in the military forever ago, but I still respect people who have been through that training.”

 

While he doesn’t move into his new space until April 1, Bob is appreciative of the care put into the entire process. He credits Penn Mathilda Property Manager Mike Demes with being exceptionally responsive, and calls his new home “new and clean and compact, with lots of windows.”

 

“I wanted to face the street. The windows are so big. I wanted to look out and feel like my apartment was even bigger.”

 

 

“If it wasn’t for ACTION-Housing and Braddock Apartments,” Winnie said , “I do believe, I would be dead.”

Winnie came to ACTION-Housing nearly a decade ago.  Now, the 67 year old college graduate lives in ACTION-Housing’s Forest Hills Senior Apartments, having transformed her life in the past decade

Winnie spent her 57th birthday partying—drinking and doing drugs, a lifestyle she maintained for the previous 42 years. Shortly afterwards, deciding to detox, she checked into “Living Sober” at the old UPMC Braddock hospital.

But she still wasn’t ready to get completely sober.

“I really didn’t plan on changing,” she said.  “I was trying to plan a controlled way to do what I wanted to do.”

Hertime in rehab changed that.

“Inside myself, I knew the truth—that I needed to do something about this.”

Once she completed the program, she decided not to return to her old neighborhood.

“I knew, if I had any chance of staying clean and sober, I would have to get away from there,” Winnie said. 

She spent another six months in a supervised program, and found work.

 It was at her next stop, a place in Swissvale that Winnie describes as a “three-quarters house” that she heard of Braddock Apartments, an ACTION-Housing development that provides housing and supportive services for people with a history of homelessness. Winnie was accepted into the program and moved intoBraddock, where she stayed for the next six years. 

During those six years, while working, Winnie enrolled in the Drug and Alcohol program at CCAC, and worked towards earning a degree.

“It took me six years, but in those six years, it taught me how to live a clean and decent life,” she said. “And at my age, that’s a miracle.” 

ACTION-Housing brought the newly minted college graduate on as a Braddock Apartments staff member, where she already served as a peer educator. 

When she turned 62, Winnie was ready to live without the extra support Braddock Apartments provided. She was the first to put her name on the waiting list for the newly completed Forest Hills Senior Apartments.

Despite knee and shoulder surgery, and chronic joint pain from arthritis that requires her to regularly go to physical therapy, Winnie isn’t looking to act her age.

“I’m not ready for the rocking chair,” she said.

She still wants to work, and eventually, wants to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

In the ten years since Winnie has been off the streets, her life has completely turned around. She worked hard to make that happen for herself — to achieve self-sufficiency.

But she still recognizes the help she received along the way.

“ACTION-Housing really changed my life. The last ten years of my life have been great.” She said. “It’s a blessing.”

On the corner of Forbes and Miltenberger in Uptown, the Mackey Lofts are 43 units of affordable and supportive housing.

In 1906, a five story white building was constructed on the corner of Forbes and Miltenberger Avenues in the Uptown neighborhood of Pittsburgh by and for the Thomas R. Mackey Baking Company In 2013, it became the Mackey Lofts, a 43 unit affordable and supportive apartment building.  

The intervening years were not easy on the building. After its stint as a bakery, it was eventually used as a moving and storage warehouse until 2011. When those tenants moved out the old biscuit factory had started to show its age.

Part of the roof was missing and pigeons took up residence on the top floors. Windows were boarded up, and the building was in a general state of disrepair. It became an eye sore on one of the most well-travelled thoroughfares in the city. 

For ACTION-Housing, it was an opportunity.

The Mackey Building was ideally located on the Forbes/Fifth corridor in Uptown. It was also close to the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services and the Pittsburgh Mercy Health system, both of which would end up becoming social service partners with ACTION-Housing for this development.

The Allegheny County Department of Health and Human Services pointed out to ACTION-Housing the need for decent and accessible housing for people who are deaf/deaf blind and or hard of hearing. Eventually, of the 43 units, ten would be equipped with special accessibility features for that population, with another eight for people with mobility impairments.

ACTION-Housing also looked to provide housing for local workers with moderate incomes. Close to Downtown, Oakland, and major Uptown employers, the Mackey would provide an affordable option to live close to work, which is proven to improve the real affordability of a housing unit.

After receiving an allocation of $11 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, BNY Mellon and the National Equity Fund, Inc. invested in the development by purchasing those credits. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh also provided ACTION-Housing with a gap loan for the development.

The planned development received strong support from the Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh, and ACTION-Housing was ready to begin construction.

Putting a development team together that consisted of ACTION-Housing,  40/80 Architecture and Alliance Construction Group of Ohio, LLC a minority business enterprise comprised of Key Construction Services, LLC and Mistick Construction, Inc.,  the team began the year long process to turn an abandoned warehouse into 43 homes.

During construction, the group was able to achieve 35.7 percent women and minority business enterprise participation, strongly beating the stated goal of 25 percent, and made good on a promise to hire local workers.

Over the course of the next year, the corner of Forbes and Miltenberger was a flurry of activity. Exterior improvements were visible to the thousands who commute past the building. Scaffolding went up. The brick façade and huge arched windows were restored to their original brilliance. But inside, the change was most pronounced. The pigeons were, of course, evicted. The roof, of course, repaired.

The large open spaces turned into rows of rooms. The fifth floor was converted into lofts. The second floor was outfitted with special security and accessibility features for people who are deaf/deaf-blind/and or hard of hearing. The fourth floor housed the rooms with accessible features for people with mobility impairments, as were the laundry room and common areas, while all of the rooms were made entirely visitable.

At last, about a year after construction began, around 90 people, including elected officials, funders, investors, public agencies, community members, members of the development team, residents, and others involved in the Mackey gathered in a packed community room to celebrate a dedication, cut the ribbon, and tour the building.

Most of the speakers discussed “vision.” It took a lot of foresight to look at an abandoned building, ripe with decay, in a neighborhood that was too often skipped over for redevelopment, and see the potential that ACTION-Housing and all of its partners were able to see.

Now, the corner of Forbes and Miltenberger has been brought back to life, and most importantly, the people who live in the Mackey have a safe, decent, sustainable, affordable, and accessible place to call home. 

It’s not often that a water bill brings the word “serendipity” to mind.

But when Michelle Massie received her water bill on the same day she received ACTION-Housing Green’s newsletter advertising a “Water Use in the Home” class, “serendipitous” certainly seemed to fit. Michelle, who owns a home in Garfield, signed up immediately for the class at ACTION-Housing’s Pittsburgh Green House—a typical Pittsburgh home located in East Liberty that’s been transformed into a hands-on learning laboratory where contractors and regular residents can learn all about residential energy and water efficiency.

“I called up the office, and I said I have to—I have to—be in this class,” she said.

As part of the 45 minute lecture and hands-on class, she formulated a plan to reduce her water usage and save money.

The class was transformational; she bought water saving aerators for all of her faucets and an efficient showerhead that night after the class ended. She also cut her shower time down dramatically by starting to use a simple 5-minute hourglass timer that sticks to the wall of her shower.

“You can get a lot done in five minutes,” she said.

In addition to those quick and effective tips, Michelle also said the Pittsburgh Green House class made her a more informed homeowner.  She learned how to flush sediment from her water tank and for the first time since her pre-purchase inspection, read her water meter. The class gave Michelle the necessary skills to confidently read her water bill and understand what she can do to save even more.

And it’s all paying off.  Within the first month, Michelle began to see savings. She saved $10 on her first bill.

“And after that, it just kept creeping down,” she said.

By the third month she was saving about 30 percent from what she was paying before taking the class. By July, the savings on her water bill already paid for the improvements she made to her house in March.

“I must say,” Michelle said, “it was probably the best decision I’ve made, as a home owner, to take part in that class, because I have seen just a dramatic difference.”  

Check out www.pittsburghgreenhouse.org for our calendar of events, sign up for our newsletter, or drop in during our open hours on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to learn how you can save money on your utility bills just like Michelle.