By Bob Bauder
Published: Sunday, December 30, 2012,
Pittsburgh officials say construction of an $11.5 million apartment building in the coming year will touch off a residential renaissance in one of the city‘s poorest neighborhoods.
Homewood Station senior apartments at Homewood Avenue and Finance Street near the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway will use transit to attract more private development in a neighborhood where none has occurred in 50 years, Councilman Ricky Burgess said. Downtown-based Oxford Development Co. and S&A Homes in State College are the developers.
About 50 more single-family homes, townhouses and condominium units in Homewood could follow, officials said.
“This is the first phase of, hopefully, a multi-phase development project,” said Burgess, who grew up in Homewood and represents the neighborhood on City Council. “It‘s the biggest development in Homewood in 25 years.”
Neighbors, however, predict traffic and parking problems, and one critic described the apartments as “picking taxpayers‘ pocket.”
Andrew S. Haines, executive vice president of S&A Homes, said the four-story building includes 41 one- and two-bedroom apartments and a cafe on the ground floor. The project incorporates the facade of a former post office. Residents must be at least age 55 and would pay $200 to $600 in monthly rent, he said.
Financing includes $10 million in federal tax credits and a $317,000 grant from the city‘s Urban Redevelopment Authority. Large investors buy the credits at a 10 percent discount to reduce annual tax bills.
Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon, questioned the public subsidy and said the location would be better suited for younger commuters with higher incomes.
“If it is such a great deal, why does it take almost full subsidy to get it built?” he asked.
Haines said S&A applied for $8 million in tax credits for about 40 additional homes that would be built on vacant lots in the area. They would be offered on a rent-to-own basis and marketed to working families, he said. He said the public money for the apartment building would create construction jobs in an area that sorely needs them.
More than one in three of Homewood‘s 6,400 residents live in poverty, according to the University of Pittsburgh‘s Center for Social and Urban Research. About 28 percent of the neighborhood‘s 3,846 homes are vacant, compared with Pittsburgh‘s 12.6 percent average. Crime is among the highest in Pittsburgh, according to police statistics.
“Without public funding, you would not have any development going on in that community,” Burgess said.
The city has tried to revitalize Homewood for decades.
In 2003, Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania constructed 14 houses near the busway, said the Rev. Samuel Ware, the group‘s executive director. All sold immediately, he said. He said the group plans 14 more houses in 2013 and to renovate at least two.
“If our project had failed, we wouldn‘t have others investing in Homewood,” Ware said.
Neighbors on Finance Street, which runs past the apartment building‘s site, predicted traffic congestion. They complained about restricted parking at the apartment building, which offers 15 spaces for 41 units.
Verna Adams, 57, said the street is clogged with vehicles parked by busway commuters. People have sideswiped her car several times, she said, demolishing it once. Adams said traffic would be compounded by people and trucks visiting the cafe.
“I‘m not against new construction in the neighborhood, but I don‘t think they really thought this out,” Adams said.
William Anderson, 40, owner of an auto body shop on Finance, said he appealed zoning variances for the apartment building because seniors would have a hard time parking and getting their vehicles out.
He said he dropped his appeals when the developers agreed to pay for a work-force development program and ensure at least 50 percent of the construction workers are minorities.
Burgess and Haines said they would work with neighbors to alleviate traffic problems and consider more parking off-site if necessary.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.