By Diane I. Daniels
May 16 was a great day for Derrick Tillman, president and CEO of Bridging the Gap Development, LLC. One of his many dreams became a reality. The ribbon-cutting ceremony of the 36-unit Miller Street Apartments took place.
Four years ago, he began the development process for the venture and this week, tenants began moving into 328 Miller Street, a $12 million project. “We are changing the face of and raising the bar of affordable housing,” said Tillman as investors, Hill District partners, community supporters and well-wishers witnessed what he considered a historical moment.
Tillman describes the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit property as an all-electric five-story building designed with exceptional energy efficiency. Of the 36 units, six are handicapped-designed, nine are project-based voucher affiliated and there are eight two-bedroom units. All units are equipped with appliances including washers and dryers. The first floor has a community room and lounge area with a kitchenette, office space for the property management and a concierge desk where residents will receive assistance with resources.
“We need more developers like Derrick to be able to flourish in our city. It is great to see such a successful affordable housing project that is not only about the structure but also about the people inside,” commented Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle during the event. “It is also great that he was able to achieve the levels of minority participation on the development at a level of 45 percent when the city only requires 18 percent. He has exceeded standards. So not only is he developing housing, but he is developing people.”
Along with Tillman’s wife, Nykia, and other family members, officials participating in the ribbon-cutting included state Rep. Jake Wheatley, Chief of Staff Dan Gilman representing the mayor’s office, Diamonte Walker of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, Lisa Kelly of First National Bank, Marimba Milliones of the Hill District Community Development Corporation and Bob Meeder of the Energy Innovation Center.
In addition to the architecture and intentional energy efficiency initiative, Tillman and his team have raised the bar for tenants in affordable housing by partnering with leading community organizations to offer a variety of services to the tenants. “We are providing residents with top-class housing and services to aid them in advancing the quality of their lives.”
Services include a trauma center in conjunction with F.O.C.U.S. Pittsburgh, aiding residents in overcoming obstacles that have the potential to present a hindrance for a quality of life, and a speaker series offering insight in various areas of expertise providing motivation and inspiration. CORO Pittsburgh will provide leadership classes providing opportunities to build on essential qualities to advance in their careers and personal goals. The Energy Innovation Center will provide job- and career-readiness training for tenants to aid them in obtaining steady income in an effort to help them advance to the next level financially. Also, financial expert Tayon Mitchell will provide financial literacy classes demonstrating how to better manage finances and begin to build long-term financial goals.
Raised by a single mother in Section 8 housing, Tillman says he knows firsthand what it is like to be displaced. A Westinghouse High School graduate, he recalls as a child his family moving from residence to residence. “We lived all over the area,” he said, recalling his time in Rankin, Wilkinsburg, Homewood, East Liberty and the Hill District. Today, he is committed to bettering the lives of others who’ve had similar experiences.
The Miller Street project not only provides housing and opportunity but possesses historical significance. “Here, we are located on holy ground,” he affirms, standing in the building entrance pointing to two plaques mounted on the wall. Formerly 318 Miller Street, the building was built in 1916 by the local branches of the International Jewish Fraternal Organization. In partnership with other groups, it was founded as the Labor Lyceum Inc., and was used as a center for Jewish labor activities. It is known as the first White-owned organization in Pittsburgh to rent to African American organizations.
Second, the building served as the First Church of God in Christ affiliated church in Pittsburgh founded by Bishop C. H. Mason in 1921. He is also credited as the founding father of the Church of God in Christ in the 1900s, headquartered in Memphis. Representatives from both the Labor Lyceum Inc. and Church of God in Christ attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
A diversified real estate development firm founded in 2006, Tilman says Bridging the Gap Development is committed to excellence in everything they do. Its mission is to rebuild sustainable communities through residential and commercial development by bridging real estate and opportunity gaps.
Tillman said Bridging the Gap Development has developed a variety of properties, including multi-family affordable housing, market-rate rental and homeownership properties, as well as mixed-use and commercial development projects.
With over 15 years of experience in real estate development, commercial brokerage and leasing, real estate sales and acquisition, real estate negotiations, real estate rehabbing, property management, business management, restaurant management and operations, marketing and consulting, Tillman is looking forward to a bright and positive future.
So, what’s next for Tillman? Working in partnership with two Hill District nonprofit entities (Amani Christian Community Development and the Macedonia Development Corporation) was his answer, to develop 22 single-family townhouses throughout the Hill.
Leaning on his faith, his goal is to continue to be patient and go where God leads him, believing that his dreams to produce major rehab and new construction projects in his hometown and other states while continuously helping others will become a reality.
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This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier.