The First Decade of the Hilltop Alliance Serving South Pittsburgh’s Hilltop Neighborhoods Our Mission: To preserve and create assets in the Hilltop community through collaboration & coordination of resources
Hilltop Alliance Making History On The Hilltop
ver the last decade, the Hilltop Alliance has worked to create positive change throughout the 11 South Pittsburgh neighborhoods to which it provides services. But the story starts before the Alliance earned its 501(c)3 nonprofit designation in 2010. As early as 200607, Coro Center for Civic Leadership and the Program for Deliberative Democracy were holding multineighborhood community conversations with a goal of supporting a Federal Weed and Seed application and “create a new cohesiveness amongst the participating citizens and communities” according to a Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy summary. Out of one of the Everyday Democracy sessions that drew more than 140 Hilltop residents, state Representative Jake Wheatley suggested an umbrella organization. Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development (PPND), now Neighborhood Allies, expressed interest in funding a cooperative organization on the Hilltop. At the time, community development funding organizations in the city weren’t giving money to grass roots led efforts, often backing the same staffed organizations. Many of the funding organizations didn’t understand the geography of the South Pittsburgh Hilltop neighborhoods in relation to the needs of the communities. The decline of the South Hilltop neighborhoods wasn’t precipitous as in other underserved city neighborhoods -- it was continuous over decades. To many, it looked like bedroom communities, without the benefit of large economic generators such as employment centers. At the time, and even now, the Hilltop neighborhoods were acting like first-tier suburbs. Out of the Deliberative Democracy Community Conversations came the beginnings of the Hilltop Alliance. Initially, with capacity building help from PPND, community groups from across the Hilltop were brought together. The first groups to come together were the: Allentown Community Development Corp., Beltzhoover Citizens Community Development Corp., Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, Carrick Community Council, Hilltop Economic Development Corp., and the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch (now the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair
Community Group). The Board of Directors of the early Hilltop Alliance consisted of two representatives from each of the member organizations. The early days of the Alliance were focused on building capacity. PPND not only provided funding for the new organization, but also offered capacity building through its Champion Neighborhoods program. Mark Bibro, executive director of the Birmingham Foundation, said the foundation also provided seed money for the new organization and acted as the fiduciary agent. Through the Community Conversation process, the Alliance established action teams to address concerns in the neighborhoods: The Repurposing Vacant Property Action Team, a Public Safety Action Team, and a Community Services Coordination Action Team in addition to a Keeping Homes on the Hilltop Resource Center. Early on, the Hilltop Alliance hired a staff member and utilized a side room in Brashear’s Neighborhood Employment Center in Allentown. Board meetings were in the Mt. Oliver Borough Council Chambers, and community meetings spread throughout the Hilltop. At the end of the decade, the Alliance had grown enough to hire its first executive director. With guidance from PPND, the Alliance hired Pat Murphy to lead the organization. In 2010 the HA was granted its 501(c)3 non-profit status. Shortly after, in 2011, the Alliance outgrew the cramped space in Allentown and moved to new office space on Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver. Through Murphy’s leadership, the Alliance took on a number of projects in addition to maintaining the original Action Teams. Early projects included establishing a website for the HA, publishing a human services directory and assisting the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch in placing a “Welcome to the Hilltop” sign at Mountain and Wagner streets. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Alliance. With strong personalities on the Board, there See History
2020 Hilltop Alliance Board of Directors Officers: Linda Piso (Knoxville), President Jennifer Cash Wade (Beltzhoover), Vice President Nancy Lomasney (Allentown), Treasurer Tom Smith (Allentown), Secretary Board of Directors:
Jessica Ruffin Beltzhoover
South Side Slopes
Mt. Oliver City / St. Clair Community Group
South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association
Knoxville Community Council
Beltzhoover Civic Association; Beltzhoover Consensus Group
Hilltop Economic Development Corporation
Mount Washington Community Development Corporation
Sherry Miller Brown
Carrick Community Council
Allentown Community Development Corporation
HA Helping To Stabilize The Neighborhood, Preserve Homes
he Hilltop Alliance has operated the Property Stabilization Program (PSP) to help stabilize and preserve homes in the Hilltop since June 2013. To date, nearly 750 neighborhood property owners have received property stabilization assistance through the program The PSP acts as a code enforcement intermediary, connecting residents to home repair resources and working with property owners to resolve the issue, acting as facilitator with the City, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and other community partners. The PSP also works on resolving complaints about vacant properties. Additionally, the Hilltop Alliance’s PSP staff has assisted residents with more than 200 human services referrals. Many small grant offerings fall under the umbrella of the Property Stabilization Program, including, but not limited to, the Emergency Stabilization Grant program, free wills and tangled title assistance, and helping with the Housing Opportunity Fund’s Homeowners Assistance Program. The Hilltop Alliance has provided more than 225 grants for this assistance totaling over $2.5 Million in aid to individual property owners. In 2015-2020, PSP saw continued growth, including the first couple of successful renovations and sales of vacant property acquired through the City. These properties had been vacant and abandoned for around a decade. The HA is still advancing another 20 properties to be renovated and resold, or vacant lots for new housing to be built. Looking ahead, the Hilltop Alliance has plans to construct 30 new single-family homes in Allentown on vacant, city-owned
lots. If successful in receiving the highly competitive funding, this project would be the largest single-project investment in Allentown in nearly 40 years.
For more information about Property Stabilization Program, contact Program Coordinator Jeph Martin at the Hilltop Alliance, 412-586-5807 ext. 3.
Alliance Working T Spaces In The Hillt
he Hilltop Alliance has assisted in the reinvestment and development of multiple green spaces throughout the Hilltop. Alongside the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and communities of Beltzhoover and Bon Air, the Hilltop Alliance completed the McKinley Park and Haberman Avenue Corridor Master Plans in 2015. The Haberman Avenue Corridor is a combination of streets, sidewalks, city steps, and paths connecting McKinley Park to the Warrington Recreation Center and South Hills Junction. Creating a safe greenway between these spaces resulted in a valuable community resource. HA provided resources in the Corridor include wayfinding signage, city steps stabilization, City capital budget support for new streetlights and ADA ramps, and the removal of overgrowth. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy secured funding for improvements in upper McKinley Park. In 2016, on the site of the former Knoxville Incline, the Hilltop Alliance worked with community member Cara Jette to create the first official greenway in the City of Pittsburgh in 30 years. The project involved identifying 40 City-owned vacant parcels along the Allentown-South Side Slopes border and turning
Fresh Fridays Helpin
resh Fridays on the Hilltop”, the Hilltop Alliance’s monthly food distribution program utilizing support from the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), is one of the Alliance’s longest operating and successful programs having operated since 2012. The free distribution event is a partnership with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, The Brashear Association, St. John Vianney Food Pantry and many other volunteers from companies and organizations in the region. The program, on the second Friday
Hilltop umbrella 0rganization proposed HA moves to Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver Hires staff & opens office
Aaron Sukenik becomes E.D.
Green Tool Box Assessment Draft
Allentown/Beltzhoover housing strategy begun McKinley Park
First Hilltop Summit held Haberman Avenue
First Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop
Adds MWCDC & SSSNA as members
To Preserve Green top Neighborhoods
Hilltop Alliance Means Business In Allentown
ith the Pennsylvania Department of them into trails and steps, to better Community & Economic connect the South Side to the Hilltop. Development’s Neighborhood That same year, Hilltop Alliance Partnership Program (NPP) staff brought together Hilltop beginning in 2014, there has residents to create and convene the been tremendous growth in Friends of South Side Park. This Allentown’s East Warrington group of community stakeholders, Avenue Business District. representing the diverse user During the six years of the NPP, groups of South Side Park (in the $8.5 million has been privately South Side Slopes), now leads all invested in commercial property advocacy, planning and awareness renovations with more than 55 around South Side Park. renovation projects, and 63 loans With this, 2016 saw the or grants provided to new or completion of a report on the public existing businesses. Additionally, use of the park, the debut of new 37 new businesses have opened signage, and a new Master Plan for and the vacancy rate in the the Park. In 2017, monthly volunteer Allentown business district has work days were held, invasive dropped to 15 percent from 40 species were removed, and the first percent. For this success, in 2018 the annual GoatFest was took place in Hilltop Alliance received an award the park. from the Urban Land Institute Also in 2017, 15 vacant lots in the Hilltop were installed with native (Pittsburgh) for Excellence in Community Placemaking. Within wildflowers to serve as pollinator the same six years, nine public pathways and stormwater retention art projects have been installed, sites. Community stewards led the as well as regular street cleaning, planning process for these “Lots of Flowers”, including adding amenities neighborhood banners and other public space improvements. such as benches and signage. Despite Covid-19, Allentown In 2020, in response to Covid-19, has not seen any businesses HA renovated the Lunchtime Lot close in 2020 and is still (next to Paisano’s Pizzeria in welcoming new businesses, with Allentown) to be optimized for as many as five new businesses outdoor sales and seating for local scheduled to open before 2021. businesses.
Also in 2020, HA is finishing the renovations of Leon’s Caribbean and Paisano’s Pizzeria, as well as the Lunchtime Lot, and worked with the Allentown CDC to install new streetscape banners.
For more information about Allentown Business District, contact Allentown Business District Manager Gordon Hall at the Hilltop Alliance, 412-586-5807 ext. 4.
ng To Feed Families In The Community of every month (April - November), provides a way for food insecure residents of the Hilltop to receive fresh food for free. Each month through Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop, the Hilltop Alliance provides families with approximately 40 pounds of fresh food. As of September 2020, approximately 622,680 pounds of fresh produce, dairy products and meat have been distributed to residents. That translates to about 11,605 households that have received food. In 2020, Fresh Fridays shifted
k Master Plan
e corridor strategy
to a Grab N’ Go model, due to Covid-19. Food is now distributed in pre-packaged boxes, quickly handed to recipients, and no signin is necessary. This will be the first year since 2012 the program will continue to offer the free food distribution every month through the winter. For more information about Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop, contact Programs and Services Director Julia McMahon at the Hilltop Alliance, 412-586-5807 ext. 9.
KCC added as member Purchased 2 commercial properties Pursuing financing for 30 new in Allentown houses to be built in Allentown Helped create Friends of SS Park Held first GoatFest
Lots of Flowers Program
Hilltop Urban Farm Is A Hilltop Alliance Success Story
illtop Alliance’s largest project, the Hilltop Urban Farm, sits on the former site of St. Clair Village. When planning for the farm began in 2013, the Hilltop Alliance worked closely with the Mt. Oliver - St. Clair Community Group to create an urban farm that aligned with the goals and priorities of the community, while also serving broader needs and filling gaps within the local food production ecosystem of the city and region. Hilltop Urban Farm officially opened in August 2017, as elected officials and community members celebrated the first phase of construction at a ribbon
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was high turnover in some member organizations and their representatives. In 2011 the funding organizations recommended the HA undergo a governance and by-law assessment. Through a selfevaluation process, the Alliance changed Board officers and operating procedures. It was around the same time the Alliance switched community groups in Beltzhoover, to the Beltzhoover Civic Association. Other changes included only having one community group from a neighborhood represented on the Hilltop Alliance Board. 2012 was a big year for the organization. One of the more notable projects was the release of a draft of the Green Tool Box Assessment. The assessment performed by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and GTECH Strategies (now Grounded) to prioritize “greening” of the Hilltop neighborhoods. That year, the Alliance also received a grant to undertake an Allentown and Beltzhoover housing strategy, which was needed in future years to apply for a Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). The HA also held its first Hilltop Summit, a gathering of community organizations to talk about successes in their neighborhoods. They also held the Youth Redefined Hilltop Youth L.E.A.D. Dialogue to Action, published the Hilltop Human Services & Community Programs Directory, and organized the Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop free
cutting ceremony. Volunteer workdays began soon after. As Hilltop Urban Farm continued to grow, constructing the Youth
Farm and Orchard in 20182019, more than 600 youth were involved with the farm in 2019 including after school and
produce distribution. The organization also changed office locations again, moving out Brownsville Road several blocks to Knoxville. The time was also right to expand membership with the addition of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association and the Mt. Washington Community
programming and staff members, as well as a change in office space to larger quarters in Allentown. Partnering with its member organizations, the Alliance began revitalizing the Allentown Business District, worked on a strategy for the Haberman Avenue corridor in Beltzhoover/
“Who would have thought we would have come so far?”
— Suzanne Niederberger Photos
Development Corporation. The HA also began adding at-large Board members to allow the organization to “recruit” board members with particular needed skills. Another year of change was coming up in 2013 when the Directors of the Hilltop Alliance decided to change “quarterbacks.” Early in the year, Aaron Sukenik was hired as the new executive director. With a background in community development, Sukenik identified aspects of the Green Tool Box as one priority for the organization. The HA began a community process to support what would become the Hilltop Urban Farm, one of the nation’s largest urban farming projects. Armed with the recently completed Allentown and Beltzhoover Housing Strategy, along with previously completed work by the Allentown CDC, the Hilltop Alliance applied for and was awarded a $250,000 per year NPP for six years, beginning in 2014. The NPP is a tax credit program through the DCED utilizing business partners receiving credit for contributions to the program. The NPP facilitated a bump in
Mt. Washington and a Master Plan for McKinley Park. The Property Stabilization Program was expanded to help keep Hilltop residents in their homes and work with neighbors on code violations. In 2016, the HA expanded and contracted at the same time. The Knoxville Community Council was added as a member organization, the number of member representatives was reduced from two to one per organization, and the number of at-large Board members was increased to five from two. Protecting and building on green space assets was also a priority with the Alliance assisting in the creation of the Friends of South Side Park. Innovation has been a key to the Alliance’s success. Their Allentown Business District Rent Abatement Program has assisted more than 20 businesses get a foothold along Warrington
summer programs. In 2018 and 2019, Hilltop Urban Farm began to transition into an independent nonprofit organization. In June 2019, the farm officially received its nonprofit status from the IRS. With two full-time staff members and an independent Board of Directors, the farm continues to grow today. Their newest operating program, the Farmer Incubation Program, enables individual urban farmers to work their own plot of land at the farm. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hilltop Urban Farm was able to provide more than 2,500 pounds of fresh produce to area food pantries and local residents. Avenue. The Lots of Flowers program transformed 15 vacant lots into gardens throughout the Hilltop. And the annual Goatfest with the Friends of South Side Park has brought thousands of people into the park to see the goats and walk the trails. The Alliance has also branched out into real estate, purchasing two commercial restaurant buildings in Allentown in an effort to keep affordable neighborhood-serving businesses in the community. In addition, HA has been working with partners to acquire vacant properties in Allentown to be renovated and offered at market rate. The Alliance is also working with partners on funding the building of 30 new affordable homes in the “Grandview South,” north of E. Warrington Avenue. In the past year, the organization spun-off the Hilltop Urban Farm into its own nonprofit entity and also created a wholly owned sub-division, HA Development LLC, for real estate ventures. Suzanne Niederberger Photos, a current and original Board member, credits the Alliance for giving her the confidence and skills to aid in the development of her member organization, the Mt. Oliver City/ St. Clair Block Group. Ms. Photos often says, “Who would have thought we would have come so far?” And in such a short period of time.
For more about the work Hilltop Alliance does and to learn about our project partners and generous funders, please visit pittsburghhilltopalliance.org. You can also keep up with our projects on Facebook at Hilltop Alliance and on Twitter at HilltopAlliance.