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Wolf puts $7.1M toward improving Western Pennsylvania's struggling neighborhoods

Natasha Lindstrom
| Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, 5:51 p.m.
Gov. Tom Wolf gestures as he speaks at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg in October 2017.
AP Photo | Matt Rourke
Gov. Tom Wolf gestures as he speaks at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg in October 2017.

More than $7 million in state funding will flow to 40 community and nonprofit groups with plans for improving some of Western Pennsylvania's struggling neighborhoods, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday.

Statewide, a total of $17.9 million in Neighborhood Assistance Program funding will go toward 125 projects planned in 2017-18. The funding leverages an additional $61 million from corporate contributions in exchange for tax credits, Wolf's office said.

The Neighborhood Assistance Program , run by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, offers businesses tax credits for pledging to invest in distressed areas, support conservation efforts and partner with community groups to address social problems. Most projects fall into one of six categories: affordable housing, community services, crime prevention, education, job training or neighborhood assistance.

The latest batch of annual awards spans everything from efforts to lower rates of recidivism, poverty and substance abuse, to plans for constructing youth centers, rehabilitating blighted properties and spurring more private development in once-booming steel and mill towns.

Forty awards totaling $7.13 million will go toward projects in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Recipients include several types of nonprofits and community development corporations in places such as Aliquippa, Jeannette, Wilkinsburg, McKees Rocks and the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Bloomfield-Garfield, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington and the Hill District.

Specific projects include:

• Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh was awarded $131,250 to spend toward rehabbing five housing units in Braddock Hills and selling them to income-qualified buyers. The plan is to build on success of similar “Rehab for Resale” work completed in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood and Homewood neighborhoods.

• Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank will receive $515,000 to increase its amount of food to accommodate growing needs and increase the number of eligible people served by the network of food pantries across the region. The food bank says its purchasing power allows it to deliver five meals for every $1 donated.

• Westmoreland County Food Bank will receive $122,375 to replace its aging freezer with a larger, more energy-efficient walk-in freezer that will increase its total refrigerated storage capacity by 5,000 cubic feet.

• FOCUS North America/Pittsburgh, which offers free medical, behavioral and dental care to people who are low-income or uninsured, plans to use $68,750 to help maintain its full-time clinic administrator and community health work positions as well as its part-time CEO.

• The Jeannette Advisory Board in Westmoreland County will spend $120,000 toward several beautification projects. Plans include removing blight, adding street signs, repainting playgrounds and bleachers, finding an area for outdoor concerts and planting flowers and possibly installing new lights along Clay Avenue. The board further aims to attract a local laundromat and food hub.

• Best of the Batch Foundation, a youth services nonprofit, will receive $110,000 toward expanding its youth educational complex in Munhall — where children often have to take at least two bus rides to get to the nearest sponsored youth activity, according to the nonprofit.

The foundation will add to its existing Clubhouse Corner by building on three adjacent vacant properties. The expansion will include an outdoor basketball court, walking track, cyber cafe, dance studio, classrooms and a learning garden.

• Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of Pittsburgh was awarded $27,500 toward continuing to provide temporary housing and support services to ex-criminal offenders in recovery from substance abuse through Michael's Place, which has helped more than 300 men transition from prison back to independent living since 2001. The funding will be used to offset the costs of capital improvements to meet county health standards, including replacing the facility's main furnace, repairing two bathrooms and repairing a first-floor interior wall.

Leftover funds will be spent on providing 150 hours of mental health counseling and creating an urban garden on the property.

In three years, the Wolf administration has awarded a total of $53.9 million in Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits supporting a total of 339 projects statewide.

Over the same period, the program leveraged $227.1 million in corporate contributions, the governor's office said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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