Affordable housing initiatives ramping up in Triboro Ecodistrict

When people are safely housed, it sets the foundation for them and their community to thrive.

May 28, 2024

When people are safely housed, it sets the foundation for them and their community to thrive.

It’s something that the Triboro Ecodistrict understands deeply and, through its partnerships with the Millvale Community Development Corporation, the City of Bridges Community Land Trust, and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, has been able to provide equitable and affordable housing to five families in Millvale thus far.

Most recently, the Millvale Community Development Corporation (MCDC) and the Millvale Community Library (MCL) worked with City of Bridges to secure housing for a refugee family that moved to the borough in the fall of 2022. The family came to Pittsburgh from Tanzania with the help of JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services, which connected with the MCDC and MCL to support their resettlement in the area.

“My husband and I moved here a month after they did, so we were all new and the kids were actually the first to enroll in our music education program,” said Georgia English.

English and her husband run You Be You Inc., which takes systemic approaches to empowering diverse groups of students to express themselves fully through the global language of music. Through her role as an educator, involvement with Rivertown Kidz, and board member of MCDC, English has built a strong relationship with the family, and she isn’t the only one.

“The whole community truly fell in love with them,” English said. “The kids are Millvale kids through and through, and it’s been really fun watching them start to kind of take up some space. The whole family has a wonderful sense of humor that just transcends those cultural barriers in some cool ways.”

Ed Nusser, executive director of City of Bridges Community Land Trust, said that while he hasn’t met the family yet, “there’s no way to exaggerate” how rewarding this type of work is.

“Being able to be a small part of making sure that homes stay affordable in these neighborhoods that are so rapidly changing is critical,” Nusser said.

The house was purchased by MCDC with the help of a grant through City of Bridges Buyer-Initiated Program, which lowered the overall cost of the house and therefore lowered rent to an affordable rate for the family. Nusser said the goal is that within the next decade, the family will be able to purchase the house from the MCDC.

The Buyer-Initiated Program works directly with homebuyers to provide a flexible grant towards their down payment, closing costs, or home repairs in exchange for signing a ground lease and becoming a part of the community land trust. Nusser said the agreement with MCDC was the first of its kind for the program.

“We were excited to pilot this long-term lease to purchase arrangement with Millvale CDC and keep this family in the neighborhood they know with the support they already have and rely on,” Nusser said.

Millvale Community Development Corporation is also involved in renovating a home on North Avenue in Millvale that was purchased by the Tri-COG Land Bankafter sitting vacant for nearly two decades. Brian Wolovich, MCDC board president, said during the two years of renovations, over 250 volunteers, including from University of Pittsburgh’s Habitat for Humanity, contributed to getting the house move-in ready. This home will be purchased in April by a family of long-time Millvale residents who have been renting a home in the community.

In Etna, City of Bridges is working on getting a handful of homes ready for sale, including new construction and rehabilitation. Megan Tuñón, executive director of Etna Community Organization (ECO), said there are four new townhouses being built and some abandoned homes that were transferred from Etna Borough to City of Bridges that should undergo rehabilitation soon “and become sage and lovely homes for two new families in Etna.”

“The borough will continue to work with our partners like [City of Bridges], Tri-COG Land Bank, and use the resources available to us to fight blight and bring more affordable housing and greenspace to the community,” Tuñón said.

In Sharpsburg, Nusser said there is one project that they “hope to start this year.”

Through their relationship with the community and partnership with Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization (SNO), Roots of Faith Pastor Scott Shaffer knows that affordable housing is a top priority for Sharpsburg residents. Primarily, he said he hears stories of people struggling with increased property taxes and rent.

“We’re doing everything we can to help address their financial needs so they aren’t displaced,” Scott said.

Roots of Faith offers a handful of programs and social services that allow residents to receive assistance for a variety of needs, including community dinners and free legal clinics, which falls in line with achieving equity in the Sharpsburg Ecodistrict and Triboro Ecodistrict. Equity is one of six quality of life lenses that have been identified by Triboro Ecodistrict residents as necessary for sustainable community development, and acts as an umbrella for food, water, energy, mobility, and air quality.

These lenses were modified to fit each community and shared in 2016 through the Millvale Ecodistrict Pivot Plan 2.0, and in 2019 through the Sharpsburg Community Vision Plan and Etna EcDistrict Plan. Scott said the work between Roots of Faith and SNO aims to achieve their community plan, which highlights preserving affordability, building community wealth, and protecting existing assets.

“Our big vision is to not only preserve affordability, but also take older buildings and make them more energy efficient and handicap accessible,” Scott said.

In the last year, Roots of Faith was able to pick up a project that had been stalled by the pandemic and secure a privately owned building in the borough containing 10 apartment units. It’s still in the works, but Scott said they will be utilized for affordable housing.

Aiming to assess the Triboro Ecodistrict as a whole, evolveEA is assisting the community with the  Triboro EcoHousing Plan, a two-part Workshop series that kicked off in January to develop an affordable housing toolkit that navigates future scenarios in the housing market through a resilience framework.

The first workshop focused on identifying the driving forces behind positive and negative change in the boroughs, shared information on current housing trends in the Triboro Ecodistrict, and identified current and future uncertainties. The second Triboro EcoHousing: Scenario Planning Workshop will take place in March and focus on developing the narratives of potential futures, explore the implications of each, consider who and how to adapt, and identify the most robust actions and strategies to move forward.

If you’d like to learn more about the programs and services Roots of Faith offers, call (412) 799-0111 or stop by their Sharpsburg location, 800 Main St.

If you’d like to volunteer in Millvale cleaning, painting, and preparing houses for habitation, contact Brian Wolovich: or (412)977-7672. There are two work days coming up on Thursday, March 14 and Monday, March 25.

If you’d like to learn more about City of Bridges Community Land Trust Development Program or Buyer-Initiative Program, call (412) 621-1811 or visit their website.