Above: McKeesport is seeking funds to build two new homes on this vacant lot along Cornell Street in conjunction with ACTION-Housing. (Tube City Almanac photo)
City officials are working with Pittsburgh-based ACTION-Housing to build at least two new homes near Twin Rivers Elementary School and renovate several others.
Last week, McKeesport city council voted 6-0 to apply to the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Fund for a grant to begin a program of new construction and renovations in the Cultural and Library District. Councilman Jim Barry was absent due to work.
The city will meet with the Concerned Citizens of the Library District on Oct. 17 to discuss the program, Mayor Mike Cherepko said.
"We have a lot of rental properties in the city, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but as we continue to move forward, the true future of the city has got to be home ownership," Cherepko said.
The state's housing trust fund, PHARE, is supported in part by the realty transfer tax as well as impact fees paid by companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale layer, and is designed to support construction and rehabilitation of affordable homes in disadvantaged parts of the state.
For its first two houses, the city is eyeing two vacant lots on Cornell Street between Manor and Bailie avenue, Cherepko said.
The houses would be sold at fair market value and would not be restricted to low-income buyers, he said.
The exact size and design of the houses is yet to be determined, Cherepko said, but they would be designed to blend with the other, older houses in the neighborhood, many of which date to the 1920s and earlier.
"A lot of the houses up there just need some TLC," he said.
A message left by Tube City Almanac at ACTION-Housing seeking comment from the housing development office was not immediately returned.
At one time, the area around the Carnegie Library of McKeesport was home to the city's top business executives, including the leaders of the G.C. Murphy Co., top managers of U.S. Steel's National Works, and directors of companies such as Firth-Sterling.
Although the stately homes remain, most of the original families have departed, along with the wealth they represented.
Still, the Library District, which also includes the McKeesport Little Theater, is a "great community with a lot of pride," Cherepko said.
"When you talk about hope, this is an area that some people had written off," he said.
But the city has torn down more than 30 vacant homes in the neighborhood in an attempt to remove blight and stabilize property values, he said.
The 2013 construction of Twin Rivers school at the site of the old Cornell Elementary School represented a major vote of confidence in the neighborhood's future, Cherepko said, and an investment in new and rehabilitated housing is the next logical step.
The mayor credited City Councilwoman Lu Ethel Nesbit, who administers the Mon Valley weatherization program for ACTION-Housing, with working behind the scenes to build a relationship between the agency and the city.
"She has been unbelieveable in seeing this project through," Cherepko said.
Originally published October 09, 2017.