Firesite Update! at the upcoming Community Meeting…

There may be some progress at the long-vacant properties, known collectively as the Firesite. The PHCA is currently looking into a proposal that would both offer permanent affordability and bring new life into the heart of the neighborhood.

The history of the Firesite now spans over a decade. The neighborhood, and the PHCA with it, have worked through a long series of steps to bring us to this opportunity.

As you may remember, the story of the Firesite began in November 2007, when a fire destroyed 3111 Brereton Street and the surrounding properties. The neighborhood was always concerned about what might be done to revitalize the site, but we didn’t get deeply involved until December 2010 when, at the PHCA’s request, a subsidiary of the URA purchased the 3 lots (each spanning from Brereton to Dobson) that make up the Firesite. Since then, the PHCA has worked with the city and other strategic partners to:

  • Put together a community plan for the site
  • Conduct a development bidding process, and
  • In 2014, select an architect/contractor team to develop on the site.

Unfortunately, due to the financing limitations of the project and the acquisition cost of the land, the developers were unable to move forward with the project. The neighborhood was grateful for all their efforts to try to make the project happen, and they stepped away from the project on good terms.

Around the same time that the insurmountable challenges to for-profit development of the Firesite were becoming clear, the PHCA began to look into some alternatives non-profit models that might be possible. One specific approach, which was set up right next-door by Lawrenceville Corporation (LC), was called a Community Land Trust (CLT).

A CLT is a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing. But how does it do this? By changing the way someone buys a house. To explain further…when you buy a house, the usual purchase actually includes two assets: the house itself and the land underneath it. But when you buy a house from a CLT, you just buy the house, not the land. The CLT maintains ownership of the land, but leases the land to you at a very affordable cost.

It’s set up this way because the lease agreement enables the CLT to put certain rules into place—rules written in consultation with the community. Three of the most important rules that are included in a CLT land lease are:

  • Only people under a certain income range are eligible to buy the property
  • A limit on how much the house can be resold for
  • Owner-occupancy is required.

For example, in Lawrenceville, LC sold one of their CLT houses for $125,000 to people who make 80 percent or less of the area median income. That house’s resale price will rise with the median income—not at the incredible double-digit rate of appreciation that the rest of Lawrenceville homes were experiencing.

You may be wondering how CLT homeownership is different from market rate homeownership. Well, CLT home ownership is practically the same as market rate home ownership. CLT home owners build equity, make their mortgage payments, and are responsible for property taxes. They can use their yards as they wish, and can make aesthetic modifications to the homes.

All these aspects about a CLT have been attractive to the PHCA board because it aligns both with the PHCA’s mission and, more specifically, the neighborhood’s priorities for the Firesite. So, when Lawrenceville Corporation invited us to participate in discussions to create a new stand-alone CLT organization that could benefit multiple surrounding communities, we were excited to get involved — particularly because we think the CLT model would be a great way to not only get the site developed, but also ensure that the neighborhood’s desire for permanently affordable housing could be realized.

The idea of the Firesite becoming a part of this new CLT organization, that could build multiple owner-occupied houses that will remain permanently affordable, is now very real possibility. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights during the upcoming Community Meetings, held on the first Tuesday of each month.

Special announcement: Funding cuts bring changes as the PHCA office closes



To our residents, members, and stakeholders,

In anticipation of a loss of federal funding that will reduce our total budget by approximately one-third, it has been determined that the Polish Hill Civic Association (PHCA) organization will no longer be able to sustain its sole full-time staff position.  As a result, the PHCA office will close its doors as of August 15.

Beginning September 2015, the Polish Hill Civic Association is no longer eligible to receive Advisory Commission on Community-Based Organizations (ACCBO) funding.  To be Community-Development eligible (CD eligible), at least 51% of residents must be low income, as reported in the Winter-Spring 2015 issue of our newsletter and at some of our community meetings.

In September 2014, the PHCA was notified that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is now using the data set from the American Community Survey to determine CD eligibility.  This survey, which gathered data from a select group of Polish Hill residents, indicated that 41.73% of residents are now low income.

Losing our CD eligibility will mean an elimination of all ACCBO funding and more difficulty securing Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  This will result in a reduction of what the PHCA receives in government grants by at least $30,000, but more likely around $40,000 — more than 30% of our total funding.  The majority of those dollars cover the PHCA’s operating expenses, including staff salary, some consultant and accounting fees, utilities, office supplies and more.  Given the financial reality, the PHCA board determined that we could no longer sustain a full-time community-oriented staff position.  This also means that we will need to reduce or eliminate the services that the staff person provided, such as the quarterly newsletter, website and blog, outreach and assistance to residents, community events, professional consultation about development in the neighborhood, and much more.

What’s next?
The board realizes that some type of staff presence is a crucial part of what the PHCA offers to the neighborhood, and we are exploring ways to achieve some part-time staffing.  The most likely way to do this would be by partnering with other community-based organizations near us.  The board is exploring several opportunities to partner with other groups to create a shared staff position that would be focused on fundraising and grant writing.

Fundraising Ahead, We Need Your Help
In September 2014, after being informed that a substantial amount of our federal funding would end in August 2015, the board realized that the most urgent task for the organization in 2015 would be to create a transition plan and to seek alternate sources of funding.  After determining the organization’s greatest needs and the neighborhood’s highest priorities, the discussion of how to do raise the dollars to fund those needs and priorities began in earnest at the July 15 board meeting.

At that meeting, the PHCA board began developing a plan to reach out to friends, residents, and stakeholders of the neighborhood who care about the community health of Polish Hill.
We ask everyone to pitch in whatever support they can to enable the PHCA to remain active in improving the lives of all the neighborhood’s residents.  Please contact our office at 412.681.1950, or email

Please keep an eye out for several initiatives that will be coming out of the Fundraising Committee in the weeks ahead, which will likely include crowd funding, individual contacts, matching donations, and many other strategies.  We would love to have your help in meeting our fundraising goal.  Please let us know if you are able to help us on our path forward, or if you have any questions.

John Rhoades
President, Board of Directors
Polish Hill Civic Association

The PHCA office:  a neighborhood presence for 46 years

The Polish Hill Civic Association has been a presence since the organization was established in September 1969.   Initially the office was in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.  Shortly afterwards, through the assistance of Rev. John Jendzura of IHM, the organization was able to acquire the building at 3060 Brereton Street.

In the following decades, the organization managed to keep its office open, usually just for a day or two a week with a volunteer staff.  In the 1980s, federal funding was secured to pay a part-time staff person.  Aside from a brief period in the early 2000s, the organization kept moving forward with a combination of part-time staff and volunteers until 2009, when office hours expanded to five or six days a week and fulltime staffing.

Polish Hill residents can be very proud that this tiny community group, operating on little or no money, was able to keep an office open for almost fifty years.  A debt of gratitude is owed to all the people over the years, who fought to keep the organization alive and growing.  Thanks to all of them, Polish Hill is the growing and thriving community that it is today.

A Personal Note from the Board
Leslie Clague has been a quintessential part of the Polish Hill Civic Association since 2008.  Working first as a volunteer and then hired as office staff, she has served as the editor, writer, photographer and archivist of the Polish Hill Voice, shaping the voice of the organization in a huge way.  She coordinated the Polish Hill Arts Festival for eight years, raising funds for the event and coordinating dozens of performers, vendors, city offices and volunteers to deliver the community a remarkable experience unlike any other in the city. 
She helped organize community meetings, provided office services and assistance to neighborhood residents, managed building facility issues, and so much more.  She has served as the consistent face of the organization, being the trusted bridge between the “old-timers” and the “new folks.”   In other words, she has served as an indispensable part of the organization and the PHCA and the neighborhood will struggle to find a way forward without her. 

Tuesday September 1, 6:30 p.m.     Community Meeting
At this meeting, find out about the future of the PHCA and what’s being done to move the organization forward. Meeting will be held on the lower level of the West Penn Recreation Center, 450 30th Street.  All are welcome.

Polish Hill Civic Association Election Results

PHCA Square Identity Facebook

The Polish Hill Civic Association is excited to announce the results of the PHCA board election. Our new president will be John Rhoades. Valerie Testa will be Vice President, and Kalie Pierce will be 2nd Vice President and Membership Chair.

The six directorships up for election were filled by: Susan Atkinson, Mark Knobil, Catherine McConnell, Myrna Newman, Josiah Parkinson, and Ruth Rizner. All terms are for two years.

Congratulations to all the winners. They will be sworn in at the January 6 community meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. on the lower level of the West Penn Recreation Center.

We are grateful to all the individuals who stepped forward as candidates. A record number of people cared enough to be willing to take on the responsibility and the extensive time commitment of being a PHCA board member. Thanks to all the people who were willing to make this commitment. We hope that all will remain as involved as ever.

This year saw strong participation in the board election.  It was very encouraging to see so many residents engaged and interested in the organization and its work in the neighborhood. We hope that this interest and engagement continues. The great benefits to our neighborhood come when residents work together.

Have a great Thanksgiving!


The PHCA office will be closed on November 28 and 29.  We’ll be back open as usual on Monday, December 2.  If you need to get in touch, email, or message here — we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Have a great holiday and a great weekend, and we’ll see you in December!

Small updates: yard waste pick- up on Saturday, PHCA office closed on Monday


The Department of Public Works will do a curbside yard waste collection on Saturday morning.  Leaves and plants must be packed in large brown paper  — leaves in plastic bags will not be collected.  Yard waste bags are available at Home Depot and other stores.  Branches must be no more than 5 feet long, and tied into bundles.  For more details on the pickup, check out this handy guide.

The PHCA office will be closed on Monday, but we’ll be back open as usual on Tuesday the 12.  In the meantime, call 412.681.1950 and leave us a message, or email.  We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.  Have a great weekend!

PHCA office closed November 1-4

closed sign

The Polish Hill Civic Association office will be closed Friday, November 1 and will reopen on Tuesday, November 5.  If you have any questions or concerns, call 412.681.1950 and leave a message, or email us at  We’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

Today is the Day of Giving!

Today, Thursday October 3, 2013, donations made through Pittsburgh Gives to the Polish Hill Civic Association will be increased with a percentage of matching funds from the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Why donate to the PHCA?  Because we’re a small organization that does a lot.  In the last year, the PHCA has:

Awarded 7 grants to homeowners to renovate the façade of their property,

Kicked off Brereton-Dobson Fire Site development planning,

Organized over 15 neighborhood clean-ups and gardening days to maintain a dozen green spaces and community gardens,

Worked as an advocate for Polish Hill residents with City and local officials, and adjacent neighborhoods on traffic calming, public safety, development, zoning and liquor license applications,

Organized the 6th Polish Hill Arts Festival, holiday events, One Young World welcome dinner and the historic photo archive, and more.

We hope you will show your support for our work in the community today.  Here are the basic rules for giving:

– Only Mastercard or Visa credit card donations received through during the 24 hours of October 3, 2013 will be matched for this event.  No donations via check, cash or stock will be accepted.  Discover and AMEX donations will not be accepted or matched.
– Each gift is 100% tax deductible.  The credit card charge will display as a donation to ”The Pittsburgh Foundation” on the donor’s credit card statement.
– The minimum gift per organization is $25.  All gifts up to $1,000 per organization will be matched.

More information in the complete rules for the Day of Giving.  You can check here to see which organizations are eligible.  And  for more information, here is a FAQ.

Pittsburgh Gives is an amazing yearly event in which millions of dollars are raised for local nonprofits.  It’s really easy and your donation to your favorite nonprofit is maximized during this event.  Please consider donating today — to the us, or to another worthy cause.

PHCA office closed August 19 – September 2

Okay, more than a few days.  The PHCA office will be closed from August 19 – September 2.  Board members will be checking the mail, phone, Facebook, and email, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  You might not get a response as quickly as usual, but someone will get back to you.  The office will also be closed for Labor Day and will reopen on Tuesday, September 3.