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First for PA: House rehab program provides avenue to ownership

The first of 10 unique home renovation projects in McKees Rocks have been saved from the wrecking ball. This home on Gardner Street in the McKees Rocks Bottoms neighborhood was recently renovated and sold to first-time home buyers Sammie and Dennis Guy.


By Elizabeth Perry

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce the sale of 310 Gardner St. – the first of many renovation/resale projects planned in McKees Rocks – was held June 29.

The home, now owned by Sammie and Dennis Guy, was renovated by newly formed nonprofit LEVEL: Equity Buildings.

The organization buys blighted properties, renovates them down to the studs, and then helps low-income buyers afford to buy the homes through subsidies.

Founder Jason Tigano said the project is a way to help people build equity and improve their lives through home ownership. Being a homeowner can lead to greater stability in a neighborhood and generational wealth for the people who live there, Tigano said.

LEVEL is unique in that it provides people looking to buy a home through the program with educational tools about taking out a mortgage and maintaining their property. The Guys went through the classes as part of buying their home on Gardner Street.

“It’s the first of its kind in the commonwealth,” Tigano said.

He said he hopes to create a maintenance fund for homeowners who graduate from his program, putting money in an escrow account so that if something breaks, they can use that money to make repairs.

The goal is not just to put people in homes, but keep them there, said Tigano.

“I won’t deny that when my wife and I started volunteering for the [McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation] Blight Taskforce in 2019 and began hearing about this initiative in its planning stages, I was not confident it would ever happen,” said Mayor David Flick in a social media post. “Fast forward to today and the first of 10 homes are now ready.”

This first phase home renovation and sale project includes the renovation of nine other houses in McKees Rocks which the non-profit has already purchased.

Tigano said he hopes those renovation projects will provide proof of concept, and lead to expansion of the program throughout the borough. At this point, LEVEL has raised $3.9 million in grants and contributions.

LEVEL’s is supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Allegheny County, Borough of McKees Rocks, the Hillman Foundation and MRCDC.


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