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House rehab brings hosannas

| Monday, Oct. 20, 2003

The neighbors of an abandoned house on Jefferson Road in Penn Hills say they're just glad to see the grass cut.

But dozens of volunteers with Hosanna Industries have converged on the property to renovate the house that the municipality picked up for $1, then turned it over to the nonprofit organization.

The project is being accomplished through the federal Good Neighbor Housing Program, in which homes with mortgages in default are sold for $1 to participating municipalities.

"We made about $40,000 on the market for a house we bought on Verona Road," said Howard Davidson, Penn Hills planning and economic development director. "We're not turning a profit on the house on Jefferson Road, but the rehab project is generating a lot of good will.

"The house -- and the yard -- will no longer be an eyesore," he added. A completion date was not available.

Hosanna Industries plans to sell the home for what amounts to the cost of building materials. This includes a new roof, siding, flooring, drywall, paint, door knobs and whatever else may be needed, project manager Mary Ellen Busey said.

Busey coordinates work crews such as the "Wednesday Club," a group of retirees from the North Hills, and a group from the Federal Home Loan Bank in Pittsburgh.

Prior to bagging some yard clippings, community investment specialist Ann Tirimacco, of Mt. Lebanon, said the opportunity to volunteer with Hosanna becomes an "easy fit," given the work she does back at the office.

Co-worker Eric Dickerson, of Sewickley, agreed.

"What I like most about it is the sense of getting out of the office and giving back on the front lines," Dickerson said.

Penn Hills will soon buy another home for $1, this one in the 10200 block of Frankstown Road. Plans for that house are not settled yet.

Hosanna, based in Rochester, Beaver County, has worked in Penn Hills before. In 1998, more than 100 people converged for a "Blitz-Build," where a new house was constructed from scratch in a matter of days on Lowell Drive, off Leechburg Road.

Then in early 2000, volunteers did extensive repairs to a fire-damaged home of an elderly resident on Thon Drive.

Busey, a native of Alaska who remained in the Pittsburgh area after graduating from Westminster College, said the work is beneficial to all parties concerned.

"I'm a big believer that if you get people involved, that changes them in some way also," Busey said. "It's not something that might happen immediately. But you never know, and you might as well try."

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