Renovating for Revival

Standing in the empty bedroom of our first completed apartment renovation in Oakland, I can’t help but notice how bright and airy the space feels. Although it’s faint, the aroma of fresh paint lingers in the air, a small reminder of how far this apartment has come over the past months. It’s an incredible transformation that’s hard for me to fully grasp.

Two months ago, I was standing in the empty living room of the apartment while it was being demoed—probably not the best day to check out the apartment. Even though it was early May, the high humidity made it easy to break a sweat. I’d been reviewing the photographs on my camera for less than a minute, and already I felt my clothes beginning to cling uncomfortably. That’s when Josh, our Director of Facilities, joined me from the kitchen. He’d been in the apartment since that morning, which showed in the blotches and various stains marking his t-shirt and pants—causalities to removing most of the apartment’s carpet and furniture. I could tell that he’d had a day already, but that didn’t keep a smile from spreading on his face. I watched him wipe his brow with one gloved hand and then point to the floor with his other gloved hand. “Hardwood,” he said to me. “All throughout the place. Hopefully we can rescue it.”

I remember agreeing with Josh, but I definitely wasn’t as optimistic as him. But the small things, right? For anyone who has ever been in or lived through a home renovation, optimism can waver like a white flag. I could see the potential, but as I looked around at the things that needed addressed my mental checklist began to quickly lengthen. The walls desperately needed a fresh coat of paint and some patchwork. The kitchen needed all its appliances replaced, a new countertop, and possibly new cupboards. After years of heavy foot track over thin carpet, the original hardwood floors were beat up, and that was putting it kindly. Everywhere I looked, something about the apartment needed replaced. I understood then why people opt to completely tear down an old building to construct something brand new. But here was Josh, still smiling as he looked around. For him, this project was an opportunity to create a better home for someone and for the neighborhood. Having worked in our Housing Assistance and Shelter programs where he helped people find affordable housing—some of whom had been pushed out of their neighborhoods from the effects of newly constructed, high-priced housing—I could tell that Josh was determined to repair and renew Pittsburgh charm, not erase it.  “It’ll get there,” he said with confidence, as if he could read my thoughts. Then he looked around again and nodded his head to confirm. “It’ll get there.” 

This apartment is just one of six apartments CHS owns in Oakland that our facilities team is renovating this summer. It’s a huge undertaking. The work we do at CHS is not about the monetary return; public service hardly ever is. Rather, our work is about supporting those who have been given up on by other systems and services. People are not bottom lines and neither is their basic right to a safe, healthy home. Low-income and supportive housing shouldn’t mean inadequate housing. We want our clients to be proud of where they live, not ashamed. Stable housing won’t be achieved if our clients dread returning home.

But while we are updating these apartments to look better, we are also taking the opportunity to make them function better. Thanks to Duquesne Light’s Watts Choice Program, we’ve been able to install energy-efficient lights at an affordable cost, and through rebates, saved over $3,000 on new appliances. We’re playing the long-game here, and that includes incorporating sustainable resources.

As renovations continue, we’ll post updates on our Facebook page, so make sure you click the follow button if you haven’t already so you can keep seeing before and after photos. And if you or a group from work would like to volunteer to help our team paint as apartments become ready for that stage, sign up through Pittsburgh Cares or email [email protected]. We can always use a few extra pairs of hands.

And as always, thank you for being a friend of CHS,

Sarah Nesbella

Development Specialist


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