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Grant Spurs Construction of New Houses in McKeesport, Penn Hills

Speakers: Affordable housing is in short supply in the Pittsburgh area

By Richard Finch Jr.
The Tube City Almanac
October 02, 2019
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Marking the start of construction on a new house along Lemon Street in the city are state Sen. Jim Brewster, McKeesport resident Shawnda Little-Dreher, who owns a house renovated by Habitat; Mike Rizzo, chief risk officer FHLB Pittsburgh; state Rep. Austin Davis; US. Rep. Mike Doyle; McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko; Howard B. Slaughter Jr. of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh; and Michelle Ufner, regional wellness manager,Team Rubicon USA. (Richard Finch Jr. photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Volunteers who came to Lemon Street in McKeesport Monday morning to “raise the wall” of a family’s new home, instead huddled under umbrellas to wait out the rain.

But the rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of Dr. Howard B. Slaughter, Jr., president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh.

“The effort today, to begin this development --- raising the wall --- is important.” Slaughter said.

Habitat of Greater Pittsburgh received an Affordable Housing Grant of $225,000 from Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for the development of the vacant lot on Lemon Street in McKeesport and two vacant lots in Penn Hills.

Mike Rizzo, FHLB Pittsburgh's chief risk officer, said $30 million to 35 million in grants was awarded in 2018 to between 60 to 70 applicants that were approved.

“Generally, all our member institutions, along with non-profits like Habitat, submit applications for affordable housing grants,” he said, adding that the bank usually gets more requests than it can fill in a year.

Families that are currently living in substandard conditions with incomes of 50 percent or less of the area median income are eligible to apply for funding.

Slaughter said Habitat for Humanity works hard to meet the needs of the communities and families it serves. “Our work is based on what (resources) are available and the needs of a particular community and the needs of the family we are working with,” he said.

Shawnda Little-Dreher and her family own a house on Jefferson Street in McKeesport that was refurbished by Habitat in 2013 and was on hand for Monday's event.

Little-Dreher thanked Cherepko for “allowing this type of program, that helps people like myself, who would not be able to afford a home if it wasn’t for Habitat for Humanity.”

Families are required to perform 350 hours of “sweat equity,” along with volunteers, on their future homes. Little-Dreher said that one of the volunteers who helped renovate her home was then-Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Doyle and Slaughter (Richard Finch Jr. photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Slaughter said the sweat equity requirement is important and designed to get applicants involved in the process of home ownership. “We believe when you work on your own home, you have a vested interest, more than just the money itself.”

In addition to staff and construction workers, Habitat has more than 1,000 volunteers in the Pittsburgh area,  “We could not do what we do, without our volunteers,” Slaughter said.

The crowd on Monday was supposed to help left the first wall of the Lemon Street house into place, but workers with Habitat said it wasn’t safe to raise the wall during the downpour.

Christin Thorpe of Thrivent Financial and Shawnda Little-Dreher watch as Cherepko speaks Monday on Lemon Street. (Richard Finch Jr. photo special to Tube City Almanac)

State Rep. Austin Davis said home ownership fosters hope in the individual and pride in the community. “These things don’t happen without us coming together, for the better of the community,” Davis said.

State Sen. Jim Brewster recognized McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko for his administration’s success in bringing businesses back to McKeesport, adding “When you bring a home in, when somebody wants to move in, that’s a whole different accomplishment, it’s a difficult task to make these things work and it’s such an exciting time to see people that want to live here.”

Slaughter said Habitat families may have had some credit challenges or issues that mitigated their ability to become homeowners. “Home ownership is critically important to anyone, so we provide financial literacy counseling and budgeting assistance, we also ensure that every member of our team works with these families in any way they can.”

Slaughter said they work with families for about a year, “Families like our process, we offer a zero percent interest rate on a 30-year mortgage, it keeps a lot of people at our door.”  

Vacant homes in the Pittsburgh area have been rehabilitated by Habitat through their partnership with the Pittsburgh based Veterans Homeowner Initiative, Slaughter said,

“The opportunity for us is to put a family in, but the goal for that program is to put a veteran in that home, we’re very excited about that program, it’s working well.” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle said it’s a good thing when another family is going “to get a shot to live in an affordable home and be a great member of their community.”

According to Doyle, economic growth in Pittsburgh is contributing to the lack of affordable housing. “Think about it, Pittsburgh is growing, new people are moving here, certain areas of our region are no longer affordable, people are “priced out of the market,” and not able to find affordable housing.

“Housing is one of the biggest issues we confront, not only in Allegheny County but throughout the region, the government itself cannot provide for all the (housing) needs.” Doyle said.

Doyle said deserving families get to live here, shop here and help the economy because partners like Team Rubicon USA, Thrivent Financial, Federal Home Loan Bank and Habitat “put the pieces of the puzzle together, to make these projects work.”

Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers news from McKeesport Area School District and North Versailles Twp. for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at finchr43@gmail.com.

Originally published October 02, 2019.

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