Grantee Spotlight | Hilltop Alliance’s “Unlocking the Home” Program Served 52 Households and Leveraged over $550,000, Resulting in Increased Wealth and Home-ownership in Hilltop Communities

Jun 8, 2020

In the Spring of 2019, we awarded a $50,000 grant to the Hilltop Alliance for their program, Unlocking the Home. The Tangled Title Assistance Program provided technical and legal support to Hilltop families who required assistance transferring the title of their family homes to their own name, so that they could receive additional resources for repairs and remain in their homes, therefore building equity and inter-generational wealth.

Outreach and Assistance Manager, Roy Blankenship, with a Knoxville homeowner assisted by the Hilltop Alliance. Photo credit: Hilltop Alliance.

A ‘tangled title’ occurs when the record owner of a property is deceased and living heirs take ownership of the property without obtaining an official legal deed. This often occurs when multiple generations of a family live together and an older family member passes away or if an individual moves into their family home after a relative’s passing. The chief concern with tangled titles is that many property maintenance assistance programs, including some offered by the Hilltop Alliance, necessitate that the resident seeking help be the legal owner of a property in order to obtain assistance. The Hilltop Alliance frequently encountered this phenomenon while helping South Pittsburgh residents address code violations and proactively set out to address the issue. They fostered a collaboration with Neighborhood Legal Services to provide the needed legal expertise necessary to transfer titles into residents’ own names.

Programs and Services Director, Julia McMahon with Program Coordinator Jeph Martin at Representative Jake Wheatley’s Health and Wellness Weekend Opening Night Mixer in 2019. Hilltop Alliance was recognized for their phenomenal work. Photo credit: Dayna Delgado.

The Unlocking The Home program was paired with other existing services available through Hilltop Alliance, such as their Last Will and Testament program, which ensures that the title of the residence remains clear after the residents’ own passing so that cycles of abandonment cease, and the Emergency Stabilization Grant program, which ensures residents can receive needed physical repairs during the deed transfer process.

By moving home titles into the names of six heirs, the program was able to support increased home-ownership in the Hilltop, build community and generational wealth, and address 46 property maintenance issues that could have perpetuated an unsafe living environment or resulted in resident displacement. When adding together the total assessed value of the 6 properties with the estimated value of the code violations and property maintenance issues, this program has leveraged an additional $556,050, a more than 10 times return on the initial $50,000 award. What an incredible social return on our investment!

Additional Outcomes:

  • 52 households served.
  • 2 inter-family deed transfers, also known as Quilt Claim Deeds. This occurs when the resident of the home is not on the deed, but the house belonged to a living family member willing to sell the property to the resident for $1.00.
  • New connections with 18 Hilltop residents interested in the program.
  • 2 program participants applying for additional home repair funds, totaling $60,000 in support.
  • 67% of participants were African American. 
  • 67% of participants were over 50 years old.

Before and after photo of restoration of facade in Beltzhoover. The project was completed in partnership with Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, with the work completed by Beltzhoover-based general contractors, Go Supreme, Three Rivers Renovations and Hilltop Rising LLC. Photo credit: Hilltop Alliance.

This pilot’s main goal was to support Hilltop families through the deed transfer process to create and build equity and generational wealth for low-to-moderate income residents while also protecting them from involuntary displacement. The program has accomplished these objectives and more by supporting resident efforts to take true, legal ownership of their communities, remain in their family homes, and receive the assistance needed to continue building equity and wealth in their properties. The process of untangling titles is extremely nuanced and complex, but worth all of the effort when we consider how this program has benefited deserving Hilltop families!


We are proud to support equitable wealth-building initiatives like this one which contributes to a healthy neighborhood with increased market confidence and heightened community ownership. Thank you to the Hilltop Alliance for working so diligently to serve our neighborhoods!

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA