PHFA awarded Hill CDC with up to $1.17 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits; Construction to begin in 2020
By Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
While every day is a good day for Hill Community Development Corporation President and CEO Marimba Milliones, Thursday, July 11, was particularly joyous.
After “many years that’s behind the manifestation of this vision” of revitalizing the Hill District’s iconic Centre Avenue corridor, news that the Hill CDC had received up to $1.17 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) to finally put the construction of 40 new apartment units in motion was music to Milliones’ ears.
“I am elated,” Milliones told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “I am grateful.”
Dubbed the New Granada Square Apartments, construction will begin next year on a five-story building on Centre Avenue in between the Black Beauty Lounge, 2037 Centre Ave., and the building that houses the Hill District Federal Credit Union, 2021 Centre Ave. The first floor will be reserved for 7,200 square feet of commercial space, and the remaining floors will house 40 units labeled as “affordable,” with the units priced from 20 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. Twenty-seven apartments will be one-bedroom; 13 will be two-bedroom. Many of the apartments will be marketed to those in the arts community.
“This award is a major and catalytic step towards the revitalization of the historic Hill District, and will anchor the development of our cultural and commercial corridor,” Milliones said in a statement provided to the Courier. “Introducing new apartment housing to the commercial core of the Hill District will be a significant economic and social engine that will drive development of the remaining Centre Avenue corridor. We are grateful to the PHFA for making this development a reality.”
In total, the Pa. Housing Finance Agency awarded LIHTC to eight entities in Allegheny County on July 11, including for the Clairton Inn and Emerald Hills Retirement Residence in Penn Hills.
For the Hill CDC and its partner, Cleveland-based CHN Housing Partners, the LIHTC were the final piece in the puzzle. The tax credits will be used to leverage approximately $11 million of equity for the project.
Total price tag for the New Granada Square Apartments is $13.4 million, which is part of a larger, $55-million New Granada Square redevelopment plan that includes 24,000 square feet of new office space, a performing arts space, a music lounge and restaurants. The epicenter for the development is, of course, the historic New Granada Theater.
Originally constructed in 1928 as the Pythian Temple, the four-story masonry structure was designed by Louis Bellinger, one of America’s early African American architects. The Theater and its Savoy Ballroom (on the second floor) were fixtures in the jazz culture, with Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker among the many greats who played the Theater.
The Hill CDC purchased the New Granada Theater in 1995, decades after it had closed for good.
But the Hill CDC always had plans for the New Granada Theater to reopen, to live on. It’s 40,000 square feet of history that the Hill CDC wants to restore to the community.
With the New Granada Square development plan in place, the University of Pittsburgh came calling, looking to secure a physical space for its Community Engagement Center inside the New Granada Theater.
Pitt’s interest, and soon-to-be investment in the Hill, along with the announcement of the 40 new apartments coming to fruition, has Milliones smiling from ear to ear.
“There’s a lot of work and emotional investment and a real commitment to delivering this project,” Milliones told the Courier, July 11. “It takes many, many years for development to occur, particularly in communities where there aren’t a lot of market-driven opportunities for development, which has been the case in the Hill District for some years.”
CHN Housing Partners has developed more than 6,000 affordable housing units, and according to the Hill CDC, is recognized for pioneering the affordable housing industry’s most successful lease-purchase homeownership model.
Kevin J. Nowak, executive director of CHN, said in a statement that his company is “thrilled” to partner with the Hill CDC “on such a meaningful and catalytic development…we look forward to helping fulfill the long-held vision for this historic project.”
Milliones shot down any notions of the Hill District being a place that people don’t want to call home. “The Hill District has never had an issue being a desirable community for many people to live in,” she told the Courier. “It may have had some brand challenges, but the Hill has a very low vacancy rate in regards to housing,” meaning that if there’s an inhabitable home available, people grab it, she said.
“The statistics are that people desire to be here. People want to live in the Hill District—we just need additional housing.”
And there’s a need for food-based businesses, Milliones said…which makes the New Granada Square Apartments site so attractive, because the first-floor retail space makes for a perfect restaurant—or two.
“We have a high demand for community-serving businesses and restaurants, that’s a real void in our market,” Milliones said.
The Shop ‘n Save grocery store, which had been open in the Hill District since 2013, recently closed its doors in March.
Milliones also urges “new and existing businesses” to set up shop at the New Granada Square Apartments site. “It’s enough space to house multiple businesses,” she said.
The Hill CDC and CHN Housing Partners are co-owners of the New Granada Square Apartments site. In addition to the LIHTC, the project is supported with $1 million from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, and $750,000 from the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
“The vision we have for the Hill District involves substantial labor, sweat and emotional investment,” Milliones said, “and it is a rewarding moment when vision becomes a reality.”