Turtle Creek rehab property latest example of nonprofit's reach
The so-called “blue tarp” house in Turtle Creek was headed for demolition.
“It was not selling. It had a blue tarp for a roof. It seemed really dark, cramped and mildewy, and it smelled dank,” said Patrick Shattuck, real estate director for the nonprofit housing rehabilitation group Mon Valley Initiative.
The repossessed home's owner, Wells Fargo bank, almost had given up on the aging, dilapidated property built in 1920 that needed gutting just to be liveable, with repair estimates suggesting it would be more cost-effective as a vacant lot.
“But at the same time,” said Shattuck, who scouts potential fixer-uppers in 10 former mill towns bordering the Monongahela River, “it had good bones.”
So 18 months ago, the Mon Valley Initiative snapped up the blue-tarp-topped property as a gift from the bank.
On Wednesday, Shattuck joined about a dozen fellow staffers, supporters and local dignitaries such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to celebrate its complete renovation. It marks the 17th residential property the Mon Valley Initiative has refurbished within the borough in the past five years.
An investment of $1.92 million into rehabilitating those homes has generated $48,000 in additional annual property tax revenues to Allegheny County, Woodland Hills School District and the borough of Turtle Creek, the nonprofit reports.
Prior to its intervention, the other 16 houses ranged in value from $1 to $33,100. They've since sold at prices ranging from $67,500 up to $150,000.
“They're (the initiative) an incredible partner,” said Jane Miller, field director for the federal Housing and Urban Development's Pittsburgh office. “They are able to pull together funding and leverage it in ways that a private investor probably wouldn't be able to. They have what it takes to not let a community like this fall.”
Turtle Creek joins the likes of North Braddock, Rankin, McKeesport, McKees Rocks and Monessen as a pocket of greater Pittsburgh plagued by abnormally high vacancies that exacerbate blight and thwart revitalization.
About 150 single-family homes sit empty in Turtle Creek for a 7 percent vacancy rate, according to data from Irvine, Calif.-based real estate research firm Attom Data Solutions. Experts say vacancy rates start to destabilize a community when they climb above 2 percent.
Unlike relatively stable markets such as in Cranberry and Bradford Woods, Turtle Creek was hit hard by foreclosures following the national housing bust in 2008, said Laura Zinski, CEO of the Mon Valley Initiative.
“National banks lured low-income people in with predatory lending, and people did refinancing deals they could not afford, so they would go under water,” Zinski said.
Now dubbed a “sweet bungalow,” the three-bedroom house on George Street has a new roof, bathrooms, kitchen, hardwood floors, modern plumbing and lighting, central air conditioning, red-brick fireplace and an open floor plan that lets in plenty of sunshine.
After $135,000 in repairs and upgrades, it's back on the market at an $84,000 listing price.
The Mon Valley Initiative, which formed in 1988 and has 18 employees and a roughly $1.5 million budget, also has purchased and resold homes in areas such as Swissvale and Braddock — where it recently renovated the former Free Press Building as modern commercial space topped with apartment units. Government funding makes up close to 60 percent of its operational funding, about 20 percent of which goes toward housing counseling to help inexperienced homebuyers navigate the purchasing process.
The initiative's rehabbed homes are reserved for households whose annual income does not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, or $39,900 for one person and $56,960 for a family of four.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.