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Who’s Next: Housing; These 12 people want to make Pittsburgh ‘livable’ for everyone

Meet this class of advocates, activists, developers, realtors and volunteers Aug. 30 at Industrious Pittsburgh.

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Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated: Aug. 15, 11:11 a.m.

Pittsburgh has been called “the most livable city” in the U.S.

But as housing prices rise and affordable buildings are torn down, government officials, nonprofit leaders and others in communities across Pittsburgh are rising to the challenge to help the city live up to that title.

For this Who’s Next class, we’re introducing you to the advocates, activists, developers, realtors and volunteers who are working to make Pittsburgh a place where everyone can live. They’re working to create and preserve affordable housing, develop neighborhoods in a responsible way, help military members and veterans become homeowners and more.

Who’s Next, presented by S&T Bank, gives The Incline a chance to recognize up-and-coming leaders in our region. As we do for each class, we’ll toast these standouts at a happy hour sponsored by Oxford Development Company — and you’re invited to join us.

What Join us as we recognize stellar under-40 young leaders shaping the city’s housing future. Your ticket includes appetizers, beer, wine and spirits, as well as your chance to meet The Incline's Who's Next: Housing class, presented by S&T Bank and Oxford Development Company. Please have a form of ID with you to present to PPG Place security.
Where Industrious Pittsburgh at One PPG Place, 31st Floor (Downtown)
When August 30, 2017 at 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
How much $20 for public | Free for Who's Next: Housing honorees
Lena Andrews
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Lena Andrews

Development Officer, ACTION-Housing
38 years old

As a planning and development officer with ACTION-Housing, Lena Andrews was a “driving force” behind the affordable Penn Mathilda building in Bloomfield, according to a person who nominated her. Creating and preserving affordable housing through strategies like applying for Low Income Housing Tax Credits is part of Andrews’ job at the nonprofit, where she also raised funds for community projects like a new library. After graduating from Dartmouth College and Carnegie Mellon University, Andrews joined Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning then became a senior planning specialist for the Urban Redevelopment Authority. There, she worked to create a new vision for the Allegheny County riverfront with a federal grant. “As a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Lena cares intensely about it being a sustainable and affordable place to live for a wide variety of people,” wrote a person who nominated her. “I'd also note that Lena is a woman who is successful and well-respected in the remarkably male-dominated industry of real estate development. She's intimidatingly smart, incredibly efficient, and I can honestly say that I don't know anyone who cares more about making Pittsburgh a truly livable city than she does.” Andrews lives in East Liberty and told The Incline she “enjoys reading, running, practicing yoga, and cleaning up her neighborhood as a part of the East Liberty Trash Warriors.”

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Provided by Kate Balzer

Kate Balzer

Realtor, Piatt Sotheby's International Realty
36 years old

Kate Balzer has been a realtor for 13 years, first in Las Vegas and now in the Pittsburgh area. She focuses on the South Hills and Downtown, where she helps individuals and families find luxury properties. She achieved the Washington-Greene Association of Realtors’ Rudy Award, given to realtors who sell between $5 million and $7 million worth of property. She’s also a Designated USAA Relocation agent for members of the military. The person who nominated Balzer said she has an “incredible work ethic and dedication to her clients,” adding that Balzer is involved with the Make a Wish foundation. After many years with Coldwell Banker, she signed on with Piatt Sotheby's International Realty in April and hopes "to aggressively market and close luxury properties," she told The Incline. A graduate of Duquesne University, she lives in Cecil.

Jennifer Barnes
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Jennifer C. Barnes

Community Relations Manager, KBK Foundation
34 years old

Jennifer C. Barnes is trained as a city planner, but she’s spent the past several year helping KBK Enterprises ensure that its developments go hand in hand with economic and workforce development. As community relations manager with the KBK Foundation, she serves as a liason between her employer and the communities it works in. She “helped design and implement” plans that ensure minority- and women-owned business participation in the company’s developments and manages a HUD project that helps sustain neighborhoods. She’s done this in the Hill District, Larimer and Homewood. Before joining KBK in 2011, Barnes researched housing and transportation policies as a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for a Sustainable California. In New Orleans, she worked with Greater New Orleans. Inc. to conduct an economic impact study following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and later with the New Orleans Business Alliance to create a retail placement strategy for the city. A graduate of the University of Chicago and University of California at Berkeley, she lives in Point Breeze.

James Craig
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

James R. Craig, Esquire

Attorney, DeMarco, Negle & Lane, LLP; Owner, Close to Home Settlement Services, LLC
28 years old

James R. Craig was homeless between the ages of 10 and 12, and "experienced first-hand that housing is not something to be taken from granted," his nominator said. As an attorney with the firm DeMarco, Negle & Lane, he represents clients in real estate tax assessment appeal hearings, landlord-tenant disputes and other real estate arbitration matters. According to his nominator, Craig was “fundamentally changed” after working with an active-duty member of the Army who was purchasing his first home. The experience led him earlier this year to co-found Close to Home Settlement Services, LLC, which provides members of the military, police, firefighters and veterans who are buying their primary property with no-cost closing services. Craig is currently running for state senate in the 46th district on a platform of housing affordability, responsible development and blight reduction. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and that institution’s school of law, he lives in Canonsburg with his fiancée Melissa.

Hallie Dumont
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Hallie Dumont

Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer, Module
33 years old

Hallie Dumont is the co-founder and chief design officer of Module, a Pittsburgh startup that designs flexible homes that can be expanded through additional units. Module was in the most recent AlphaLab Gear cohort and is a member of Techstars IoT’s 2017 class. The company was also a finalist in SXSW’s Accelerator Pitch Competition. Dumont built a Module unit on the plaza of Nova Place with her partner, Jodi Passerrelio, part of a pilot project currently underway on the North Side. Before co-founding Module, Dumont was a general contractor for Wall2Wall, a volunteer for Fisher ARCHitecture and an interior designer for qkArchitecture. She’s a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University, as well as Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Dumont says she’s an Olympic lifter (who doesn’t compete) and enjoys mountain biking. She lives in South Park with her two dogs, Cooper and Scout.

Crystal Jennings
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Crystal Jennings

Transit/Housing Organizer, Pittsburghers for Public Transit; Activist for affordable housing
33 years old

Crystal Jennings’ advocacy was born out of a personal struggle. “When my father got displaced, I [chose] to stand up and fight,” said Jennings, whose father lived at Penn Plaza in East Liberty before being evicted by LG Realty. As an organizer with Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, Jennings helped mobilize residents and communicated with members of the media. She recently joined Pittsburghers for Public Transit as a housing/tenant organizer, where she engages riders and tenants in campaigns for affordable housing near transit and for improvements to public transportation. “She stepped in during a time of crisis and was able to build strong relationships with residents, engaging in direct support and helping lead the campaign for justice for the displaced residents of the building,” wrote the person who nominated her. “She is a powerful speaker, community member, and organizer and a force to be reckoned with.” Jennings lives in Elliot.

Rebecca Maclean
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Rebecca Maclean

Senior Community Planning & Development Representative, HUD
39 years old

As a senior community planning and development representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebecca Maclean is involved in projects to bring affordable housing to Pittsburgh. According to her nominator, she is “developing a mapping database of subsidized affordable housing units across Western Pa.” and serves as the local team coordinator for two projects that will preserve and benefit East Liberty and Larmier and the Hill District and Bedford Dwellings. She’s also a volunteer for 412 Food Rescue, which seeks to put unwanted food to good use. “I can say on a personal level that Rebecca is extremely passionate about social justice for low-income communities, not just in housing, but in other aspects as well,” said the person who nominated her. “It makes me proud to know that a person with Rebecca's caring and compassion for the human impact of government programs is in charge of so many pivotal projects in our city. I know that Pittsburgh's neighborhoods are in good hands with her.” Maclean told The Incline that, when she’s not working, “I'm busy managing the logistics of a crazy family, including my husband who owns his own knife-making business and three kids (ages 14, 9, and 4).” She lives in Highland Park.

Maclean's bio has been updated.

Ben Samson
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Benjamin Samson

Partner, Atlas Development
30 years old

Architectural and urban designer Benjamin Samson is working to revitalize Broadway Avenue in Beechview as a partner at Atlas Development. He’s also an associate at Front Studio Architects, a firm whose work is currently being exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center. You may recognize his name from his viral thesis (yes, a thesis can go viral) that included a map for an extended Pittsburgh light rail system. “A native of Pittsburgh who returned home after college, Ben is passionate about the making his hometown a place that's desirable, affordable, and attractive to anyone looking to put down roots in the city,” wrote the person who nominated him. “On the Beechview project, Ben has worked closely with community leaders and current residents to make sure the development fits their needs and vision for the neighborhood.” While Samson calls himself a “true Pittsburgher,” he’s also extensively traveled to “explore the world, its cultures and its architecture.” A graduate of the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech, he lives in Squirrel Hill.

Ciora Thomas
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Ciora Thomas

President, sisTers PGH
28 years old

Ciora Thomas is a leader in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community whose organization, sisTers Pgh, is raising funds to open a “homeless shelter with permanent housing opportunities for transgender [and] non-binary people in Western Pennsylvania with a mission of equality on all grounds,” she told The Incline. "In the struggles that many of the LGBTQIA community faces," Thomas told us, she has "lived through it and has gained great knowledge on how to lead and bring success in bettering the lives of those who struggle to survive in communities not built for there independence or growth." At the moment, she holds peer group sessions twice a month with trans youth and adults to help them develop the skills they need to live independently. She was selected to serve on Mayor Bill Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council and won a Community Engagement Award. She’s a board member for Proud Haven, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ individuals, and was the lead organizer of People’s Pride, a resistance march held during Pittsburgh Pride. She lives in Homestead.

Jason Tigano
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Jason Tigano

Director of Real Estate Development, Economic Development South
37 years old

Jason Tigano was born and raised in Allegheny County, and he’s spent his professional career serving its communities. After graduating from Duquesne University, he worked for Congressman Mike Doyle as a community development representative. “I learned so much about leadership and collaboration from my time at the Congressman's office,” Tigano told The Incline. He then worked for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, during which time he joined the boards of housing nonprofits Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh and NeighborWorks Western PA. “Working with the boards and executive staff of both organizations, we began to build partnerships with the City, URA and local neighborhood organizations,” he said. “These partnerships have shown that there are ways to deliver authentic affordable housing solutions to the residents who deserve it most.” Since November 2014, Tigano has been director of real estate development for Economic Development South, a nonprofit that serves South Pittsburgh and the South Hills. In that role, he’s in charge of “managerial, tactical, and strategic responsibility for all ongoing and planned real estate development projects,” according to his resume. He lives in Brookline.

Kyle C. Webster
Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Kyle C. Webster

Associate Attorney, Levicoff Law Firm; Board Chair, Proud Haven
34 years old

By day, Kyle C. Webster is a litigation attorney who told The Incline he “became a lawyer due to my passion for housing rights and due to a desire to help the homeless and advocate for affordable housing.” While his professional career isn't currently focused that front, his volunteering work is. Since January 2016, Webster has been board chair of Proud Haven, a nonprofit for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability. He also serves on the board of Lawrenceville United, during which time he’s testified in favor of zoning practices that would create additional affordable housing. “Under Kyle's leadership, Proud Haven has obtained an office to provide accessible services to LGBTQ+ homeless youth, developed specific shelter and transitionary housing opportunities for LGBTQ+ homeless youth and expanded its fundraising,” wrote the person who nominated him. “Kyle is an advocate through and through for those vulnerable to homelessness and who lack access to the resources to obtain affordable housing. I have known Kyle since moving to Pittsburgh five years ago and his drive and passion for the work he selflessly does is an inspiration to those who know him and work with him.” A graduate of the University of Maine and University of Pittsburgh, Webster lives in Upper Lawrenceville.

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Provided by Chad Wheatley / Cwenar Studios

Chad Wheatley

Senior Vice President of Development & Construction, Millcraft
37 years old

For the past 11 years, Chad Wheatley has worked for Millcraft, first as project manager and now as senior vice president of development and construction. In that role, he’s tasked with planning and overseeing construction projects, as well as tenant improvements. The projects he’s worked on include Piatt Place, Market Square Place, River Vue Apartments and Tower Two Sixty. He served as a board member with the Washington Business District Authority for six years and spent three as an advisor for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s Green Infrastructure Technical Advisory Committee. “Chad has worked on these housing opportunities in their entirety, from the beginning stages to the ribbon cutting ceremonies. Chad has been an integral part of the Millcraft team,” wrote the person who nominated him. “Chad is a true asset to the Millcraft team, and we are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable leader.” A graduate of Penn State University, he lives in Peters Township.