Despite pouring rain, more than 100 Hazelwood residents and local community leaders gathered inside a vacant building in the neighborhood business district to celebrate plans to transform the empty structure into a green, state-of-the-art library and community center. Those who came out talked about how the building renovation and a series of other revitalization initiatives, including a door-to-door neighborhood census, are injecting new hope and vitality into Hazelwood. (Video by Joshua Franzos)

Why Hazelwood? Having determined that a place-based approach was worthwhile, Endowments staff began to explore several Pittsburgh neighborhoods that were well-situated for a community-foundation partnership centered on revitalization. This process led us to Hazelwood, a place that would benefit from additional help and possessed many human, social and physical assets that appeared to position it to succeed. Contributing to the decision was an awareness of the community’s history and challenges the staff gained through the Endowments’ partnership with three other foundations to develop a riverfront brownfield that had been the site of a Hazelwood steel mill. Plans are still underway to transform the Almono property – named after the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers that meet in Pittsburgh – into a mixed-use, sustainable development that will be intertwined with Hazelwood. Investing in the revitalization of the existing neighborhood as well as the brownfield further solidifies the Endowments’ commitment to the community.

Process: In July 2012, the Endowments asked a number of community leaders to meet with foundation staff to explore a community-foundation partnership tasked with the revitalization of Hazelwood. Leaders from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Center of Life, Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, Fishes and Loaves Ministry, Glen Hazel Community Development Corporation, Glen Hazel Tenants Council, Hazelwood Initiative, Hazelwood YMCA and POORLAW – People of Origin Rightfully Loved and Wanted – have been meeting almost monthly with senior Endowments staff to solidify a community-foundation partnership. To ensure this is more than just talk, this group is working on high-priority projects designed to jump-start community improvement. Additional committees targeting key community issues also have been set up.

Projects to Date:

Family Support Center
Current demographic and socioeconomic data for Hazelwood suggests a sizable demand for family services in the community. Of the nearly 5,000 people living in Hazelwood according to the 2010 Census, 20 percent are under 18, while almost 5 percent are under 5 years old. More than 40 percent of people under 18 are living in poverty, partly explained by the fact that 60 percent of Hazelwood households with children under 18 are female-headed homes. While there are a number of individuals, churches and other nonprofits doing their best to care for families in need, anecdotal observation suggests that provision of family services is currently quite fragmented and many people are underserved. Engagement with individuals and organizations currently helping Hazelwood families demonstrated strong support for creating a family support center in the neighborhood. Family support centers provide access to a comprehensive suite of family services targeted to children from birth to age 5 and their families. A grant was made in fall 2012 to support researching and opening a center in Hazelwood by 2014.

Improve Transit Options in Hazelwood
Hazelwood’s location and topography provide some serious challenges for residents trying to get to other parts of Pittsburgh via public transit. Though service to Downtown and The Waterfront retail complex is relatively frequent and reliable, access to job centers in Oakland and the South Side as well as shopping and services in Squirrel Hill – all neighborhoods less than 15 minutes away by car – is arduous at best. Bus trips to these communities require passengers to travel Downtown and transfer back out, which makes the commute as long as 90 minutes each way. In addition, service during late shift hours is limited or non-existent. Reducing barriers to employment as well as improving access to education, retail and health services is a critical piece of improving quality of life in Hazelwood. Through substantial engagement with and leadership by community members, our Transit Working Group conducted research that suggests a first step to improving transit connections is to test routes using the ACCESS transportation system. This method allows for flexibility in routes, vehicle size, service hours, pricing and other parameters.

Hazelwood Community Center and Carnegie Library
It is obvious through our own experience in Hazelwood over the last year, as well as through conversations with our community partners, that the neighborhood is in desperate need of a community center. There is precious little “third space” in Hazelwood that is open to individuals and groups for formal and informal gatherings, meetings, cultural events and other related activities. One space that tries to fill this role is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood Branch. However, the library’s location on the second floor of a building housing a beer store and laundry, and its small size limits its ability to fully serve this function.

When Endowments staff learned of the impending sale of a former Presbyterian church on Second Avenue to a dollar store retailer, we entered into a partnership with ACTION Housing to secure an option on the site with the intention of creating the much-needed community facility. After extensive community engagement efforts to determine the best uses of the site, ACTION Housing purchased the property in June 2013. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh entered into an agreement with the organization to establish an improved and expanded Hazelwood branch on the main floor of the building, which would be renovated into an energy-efficient structure with comfortable and welcoming interior and exterior spaces.

Propel Charter School
When Burgwin Elementary closed in 2006, Hazelwood lost its last community school. Currently public school students who don’t pursue entry into a magnet school are assigned to one of three elementary schools, one middle school and one of two high schools outside Hazelwood. With transportation times as long as 45 minutes each way, this arrangement has a negative impact on students and parents’ lives. Furthermore, a school’s presence in a community provides an important function as a stabilizing influence and a community gathering space.

Recognizing the challenges that the lack of a community school presented to academic achievement and quality of life, neighborhood leaders began working with Propel Schools in 2011 to bring a charter school to Hazelwood. Propel responded favorably and is in the process of securing a charter and space for a K-8 school in Hazelwood. The Endowments is prepared to provide grant support for startup funding and possibly capital improvements to a building should Propel acquire one.

Improving Access to Out-of-School-Time Programs
The Endowments and our Hazelwood partners understand the importance of out-of-school-time opportunities for children in Hazelwood. Programs operating outside the school day help children expand their learning, provide safe places to gather and play, and help working parents. Recent research compiled and published in the book “Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success” further documents the positive impact of high-quality, out-of-school-time experiences.

In the Endowments’ early work in Hazelwood, it became clear that the Center of Life, a faith-based community empowerment organization and an anchor for the neighborhood, operates a promising out-of-school-time program. A fall 2012 grant to COL is helping it expand the reach of its core out-of-school-time programs, which are focused on health and physical activity, tutoring, music and arts. Endowments staff also recognizes that development of an overall out-of-school-time plan would benefit the children and families in Hazelwood. Such a plan should survey the programmatic landscape, capture youth and family interests, and address identified gaps. This “zone” approach has been successful in cities such as Providence and Nashville, and is emerging as an approach in the Hill District.

Improving School Climate
There are currently no public or private schools located in Hazelwood, forcing all students to travel outside their neighborhood to be educated. Significant busing times to reach city public schools coupled with “turf issues” between Hazelwood students and those from other communities combine with more recognized triggers of bullying to create potentially serious safety issues for neighborhood students.

Prior to the Endowments’ partnership with Hazelwood, neighborhood leaders and engaged parents were successfully reducing both the threat and reality of bullying in Mifflin Elementary School, one of three feeder-pattern elementary schools serving the community. An initial grant of $20,000 was awarded to support existing work at the school. Additional funds were allocated in 2013 to support a partnership between Hazelwood parents and the community-based organization, A+ Schools, to increase parent engagement in the Hazelwood feeder schools and others across the district. This work will build on existing work at Mifflin School that currently focuses solely on bullying to address larger school climate issues to improve teacher practice and student learning.

Early Stage Housing Rehabilitation
The state of Hazelwood’s housing market is well-documented. Values and sales prices are severely depressed. Mortgage originations are a small fraction of actual transactions, and many properties are in need of repairs costing more than the market value of the home. Substantial new development at the Almono site in the coming years has the potential to improve the housing market in greater Hazelwood, providing an opportunity to help existing homeowners repair and still retain their homes before values increase. Low sales prices also present an opportunity to create new homeowner opportunities for existing renters.

A partnership among Center of Life, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, Neighbor Works and the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group is working to capitalize on these opportunities by bringing together volunteer labor, financial education and new mortgage products to help existing homeowners and create opportunities for new ones. In helping the most “at-risk” homeowners and creating new ownership opportunities now, several benefits can be realized. First and foremost is improving the living situation of struggling families and seniors. This partnership model also provides significant opportunities for community involvement in identifying individuals and properties in need of assistance as well as families ready to invest in homeownership given the right opportunities. It also provides opportunities for the community to participate directly as volunteers in the rehabilitation of selected homes. Finally, by enabling existing homeowners to improve and retain their homes while providing new opportunities to current renters, families have a much better chance of both realizing equity gains from an improving market and having a genuine choice to remain in Hazelwood as the neighborhood improves.

Faith-based Community Service Grants
Like most neighborhoods, churches in Hazelwood provide critically needed services to Hazelwood families. These include assistance with basic needs like food, clothing and school supplies, as well as help accessing physical and mental health services, employment and government benefits. Even with the more comprehensive and coordinated provision of these services envisioned through a family support center, churches will remain a critical point of contact for families in need. At its fall 2012 meeting, the Endowments board approved a $200,000 appropriation to support small grants to Hazelwood churches to help them improve or expand community assistance work. In meeting with individual pastors to introduce this opportunity, Endowments staff quickly realized that faith leaders desired a deeper connection with their colleagues and their churches.

Strategic Site Control of Second Avenue Properties
Second Avenue is the unquestioned main street of Hazelwood. At its best, it connects various sectors of the neighborhoods both physically and socially. This status was recognized and reinforced by the Almono master plan, which purposely omitted major new retail development from that site with the intention that such development happen on Second Avenue. The likely opening of a new community center at 5000 Second Ave. has spurred interest from a number of parties for new retail and service uses on the street.

The relatively weak real estate market in Hazelwood provides a perverse opportunity to gain site control of important properties on the street that could catalyze new development activity. Through a partner agreed upon by community leaders and Endowments staff, it should be possible to secure several sizable tracts along the street. This control would provide an opportunity to act on a compelling and viable vision for Second Avenue that gives the community leverage in negotiating with developers. It also would offer unique opportunities for the community to make equity investments in new projects that provide financial and social returns that can increase the overall benefit to Hazelwood.

KaBOOM! Playground
When the Endowments sponsored a neighborhood party to celebrate the opening of a trail connection between Hazelwood and Second avenues and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, we asked attendees to list their hopes and desires for the neighborhood. A consistent theme in these lists was the need for more and better play spaces. Observing the location and condition of existing spaces in Hazelwood confirms those needs. A 2012 grant to KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating safe play spaces for children, to build community designed, constructed and maintained play spaces in the Pittsburgh region included funds that could support at least two new playgrounds in Hazelwood.

Comprehensive Community Survey
In early 2011, the Endowments completed a report outlining current population, education, and economic status and trends in Hazelwood. Comprised primarily of U.S. Census data with some local information on housing, crime and voting, the report provided a valuable, if high-level picture of the socioeconomic condition of the neighborhood. However, since we began identifying a set of early community improvement actions in conjunction with community leaders, the need for more detailed, house-by-house survey data has surfaced repeatedly. In addition to improving the results of our 2013 projects, the information from the survey will provide important baseline data for a comprehensive community vision and action plan.

By carefully constructing an instrument that balances the need for information with the need to limit the time required to canvass each household, the survey effort intends to reach 100 percent of Hazelwood homes. Observing the success that some other communities have experienced in collecting and using this data leads us to believe that, if done correctly, the process can also yield some valuable community- building results. Since community leaders are and will be intimately involved in determining survey questions and process, the effort should help build cohesion in our team. By training and paying community members to administer the surveys, we both improve the likelihood of participation and make connections to potential new leaders.

Summer Youth Employment
Unemployment is a serious problem for both adults and teens in Hazelwood. The neighborhood has enjoyed some recent success in employing teens and young adults in summer jobs programs as a means to boost individual and family income, build job skills and work readiness, and add value to the neighborhood through conservation and cleanup projects. In 2011, the Endowments supported a partnership that included the Student Conservation Association, POORLAW, and the Glen Hazel Tenants Council, and employed about 15 people over a nine-week period.

In 2013, the Endowments supported and expanded partnership between SCA and neighborhood partners to increase the number of youth and young adults in the program and provide more leadership opportunities for Hazelwood residents. We will continue to evaluate the success of the summer program and make changes that improve the programs reach, effectiveness and financial sustainability.


© 2017 The Heinz Endowments