When Lionel Harris drove up to the corner of Kirkpatrick Street and Bedford Avenue in the Hill District for a ribbon cutting ceremony a week ago, he was stunned to see the new community center named for his father, famed Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris.
The lights above the center’s doors are designed to look like Harris’ iconic camera—with the bulbs where the flash would be, and the railing of the center’s porch featuring silhouettes representing Harris with his camera in his trademark hat and coat.
“I came up and saw it and thought, this is amazing,” said Lionel at the Nov. 1 ceremony. “He loved this city so much, and the Hill District, and its people were important to him. It was beautiful because the people were beautiful. And they still are, and this—this is just amazing. Thank you to everyone who helped do this.”
Everyone who helped included the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, the Hill Community Development Corporation, The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Housing Authority, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and developer Keith B. Key.
The community center is part of the city housing authority’s Middle Hill development, and consists of 52 mixed-income rental homes, all but 15 are reserved for low-income families. There are 20 three-bedroom units, 28 two-bedroom units, and four one-bedroom units.
Mayor Bill Peduto said he was most proud of the project’s economic development benefit.
“We had 59 percent (minority, women, and disabled-business enterprise) participation on this project,” he said. “That meant $7.1 million in minority contracts in addition to the $12 million to the minority general contractor. Keith, I thank you for hitting those numbers.”
Key, who grew up in the Hill District, said he was pleased to be a part of it.
“I get to bask in this. But I’m the beneficiary of all the hopes and aspirations people had for this community,” he said. “I want to thank the city for acquiring the sites to make this development contiguous, and I especially want to thank the Harris family for trusting us with their name to do this center.”
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said as much as the project and all the participants deserve praise, more needs to be done.
“It’s not enough to add affordable housing here without extending it to the rest of the city,” he said. “A year ago, we established the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but have yet to fund it. If we don’t, then these kinds of projects won’t be funded, and money won’t be spent locally.”
Pittsburgh Housing Authority Executive Director Caster Binion said he was pleased to be able to help create so many affordable housing units, which technically constitute the third phase of the Addison Terrace redevelopment, but he really thanked the residents for their participation.
“The residents came to all the meetings, met with the architects, gave input. Everyone was committed, and that’s why it’s been successful,” he said. “If this project can change the trajectory of a young person’s life, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”
Binion said he expects to announce the closing of four new housing development projects before the end of the year.