A Holistic Approach

In the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the City of Bridges Community Land Trust is tackling the affordable housing challenge in a holistic way. They are addressing the urgent demand for affordable and resilient housing and ensuring that the housing supports the health and well-being of residents, keeps operating costs affordable, and manages construction impact on the community. We talked to the Julie Nigro, who is Senior Real Estate Project Manager at City of Bridges Land Trust to learn how ILFI programs have supported these goals; the organization is participating in ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot Program and pursuing Living Building Certification for four units in Hazelwood. 

Image courtesy of Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

City of Bridges is a nonprofit developer of permanent affordable housing that has been operating for five years. “Ours is a pay-it-forward model,” Nigro says. “We retain the land and sell the homes to an income-qualified person, who buys it at a lower than market rate. The community retains land ownership and we are able to hold those below-market rates.” At present, the City of Bridges has 22 homeowners in a number of neighborhoods across the city. In Hazelwood, there was a lot of vacancy after years of disinvestment, and recently tech company interest had spurred some speculation. “We are trying to get ahead of that,” Nigro says, “to help increase the capacity of people to stay.” The developer was working with architect Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, who introduced them to ILFI programs and it was decided that they would pursue the Living Building Challenge (Core Certification). The four units have recently broken ground: These are modular, factory-built units.

Image courtesy of Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

“The pilot project has been great,” Nigro reports. “Monthly Zoom meetings with the whole affordable housing team have enabled our project team to connect with others around the country. This provides immense value to the project. It is tremendously helpful to have peer support while we seek to achieve affordable housing and reach really high energy and material standards.” Nigro says that they always strive for better than code energy and comfort standards, but “we want to be sure that our homes are affordable to purchase and affordable to live in, too. That’s crucial for our model and a very important part of the story. We, perhaps more than most developers, know that the building is not ‘done’ when it is occupied. That is just the beginning.” She adds that the Hazelwood neighborhood has historically had poor air quality. For this reason, the team was very focused on ensuring very high indoor air quality standards for these units. 

Everything we are doing here is replicable.

“The Living Building model is ideal for our goals and aligns with our values,” Nigro says. “We are focused on the impacts on residents. Another critical aspect is that this is not a one-off: everything we are doing here is replicable, and the more times we do it, the lower the cost can be. Part of our story is about tracking the bills and talking to the residents. We are excited to look at this long term, to show how these are so much more affordable to live in.” 

Cover image courtesy of Rothschild Doyno Collaborative.

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Written By

ILFI Staff

The International Living Future Institute’s mission is to lead the transformation toward a civilization that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative.