Stately front porches, columns, Victorian architecture and history are all elements of a successful home tour. And, Wilkinsburg’s tour will highlight five homes with these coveted features, though there is one catch: The homes are abandoned.
The first-ever Vacant Home Tour
, a project developed by students at Carnegie Mellon University in partnership with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation
and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, will be held in Wilkinsburg on Saturday, May 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is a self-guided neighborhood walking tour that is free and open to the public.
“The Vacant Home Tour aims to address [blight] by highlighting some of Wilkinsburg’s historic vacant properties,” said Tracey Evans, WCDC executive director. “The tour will include a workshop component, which will provide people with information and tools that can be used to acquire and rehabilitate vacant homes and commercial properties in Wilkinsburg.”
The overall goal of the tour is to eliminate blight by reframing the issue as an opportunity for rehabilitation in the Borough of Wilkinsburg
. The tour will showcase five historic vacant homes located throughout Wilkinsburg (718 Whitney Ave., 740 Hill Ave., 816 South Ave., 1329 Singer Place and 831 Rebecca Ave.), including properties in the Singer Place and Hamnett Place neighborhoods.
The idea for the Vacant Home Tour was born last fall when Ken Chu, a CMU public policy graduate student in the Heinz College, took a class about design for humanitarian impact. He and a few classmates, of varying backgrounds spanning from architecture to design to robotics, worked on a group project with the goal of developing ideas to remediate blight in the Pittsburgh region.
Marlee Gallagher, WCDC communications and outreach coordinator, said Chu and his classmates met with residents of the Hamnett Place neighborhood to discuss what could be done to improve the community and the idea for the home tour was born. Chu is carrying out this event as his culminating spring capstone project.
Gallagher called the Vacant Home Tour “a cool new project that hadn’t been done anywhere.” She added that the event could be replicated in other places to help remediate blight.
“[The event shows] people that acquiring properties is a tangible thing,” she said.
Community members will serve as tour guides, greeting participants at each stop along the tour and relaying each property’s history. All tour goers will receive a tour kit, complete with a tour map as well as photos, historical facts and information about each property. During the tour, the WCDC, PHLF and partners will host two resource workshops for tour goers who are interested in acquiring and rehabilitating a vacant property. The workshop will feature speakers who specialize in acquiring, financing and rehabilitating vacant homes and buildings. Workshop attendees will learn about the processes, available tools, risks and challenges and rewards involved in acquiring vacant property.
“There are several hundred vacant properties in Wilkinsburg, so it was hard to pin down just five,” Gallagher said.
And, the five properties, along with others in the borough, are eligible to be acquired, Gallagher explained. She said the event will promote ways to acquire these properties, including the Vacant Property Recovery Program.
Gallagher said it can cost less than $10,000 to acquire a house via the Vacant Property Recovery Program
. Additional expenses depend on the work that goes into the individual property, though costs usually include plumbing, electric and roof renovations that in total can cost between $30,000 and $50,000.
In March, the Wilkinsburg Vacant Home Tour was recognized as a finalist in the Fels National Public Policy Competition at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The Fels Competition resulted in a $5,000 award, which will be used to cover tour expenses. In addition to this award, the tour is being sponsored by Neighborhood Allies, through a Small & Simple grant, with additional funding support provided by Carnegie Mellon University.
The tour will feature house histories with displays and artifacts, as well as showcasing Wilkinsburg as a community. Other points of interest along the tour route will include the Wilkinsburg Train Station, Hosanna House, Wilkinsburg Boys & Girls Club, Landmarks Preservation Resource Center, Singer Mansion and Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Garden. The Wilkinsburg High School band is also set to play. Tour coordinators expect more than 400 attendees and are actively seeking volunteers to assist during the tour.
Source: WCDC, Marlee Gallagher