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Library Homeowners Urged to Apply for Rehab Grants

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 13, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Cornell Street is part of the city's Library and Cultural District. (Tube City Almanac file photo.)

If you live in the city's Library and Cultural District and own your home, Joe Costa at ACTION-Housing wants to hear from you as soon as possible.

Costa, a housing associate with the non-profit agency, is putting together a grant request to the state's housing trust fund and is seeking homeowners whose houses need remodeling or rehabilitation work.

"We have one candidate signed up already," he said. "We need 10 candidates altogether. These could be safety upgrades, structural repairs, roof, wiring, plumbing repairs --- anything needed to keep a house up to code."

People who are interested should call Costa at (412) 281-2102, extension 2053, or email jcosta@actionhousing.org.

Interested residents who want to learn more about the program are being urged to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Oct 17 at McKeesport Presbyterian Church, corner of Versailles and Union avenues.

The rehab program is one component of a program announced last week by McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko to upgrade housing in the area around Carnegie Library of McKeesport, Twin Rivers Elementary School and McKeesport Little Theater, and to build two new homes along Cornell Street.

The housing trust fund, officially known as the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund, or PHARE, is supported in part by the realty transfer tax and gas-drilling impact fees, and supports construction and rehabilitation of affordable homes in disadvantaged parts of the state.

The city, in cooperation with ACTION, is seeking enough money from the fund to build two new homes and provide about $110,000 in upgrades to 10 others, Costa said.

"You have great housng stock up there, but a lot of them are on the verge of being too far gone," he said. "We're tyring to preserve as much as we can, because you really can't replicate those homes. You put any of them into Shadyside, and they're worth double or triple what they're selling for in McKeesport."

In the 1920s, the neighborhood was the home of many of McKeesport's wealthiest and most prominent families, including the Macks and Shaws of the G.C. Murphy Co.

The new homes proposed for vacant, city-owned lots at 1619 Bailie Ave. and 1400 Manor St. are not yet designed, but Costa said they would be designed to blend with the existing houses.

"Probably three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a porch," he said. "We would want them to have a basement and ideally, they would include brick." Construction details and materials won't be finalized, Costa said, unless the city receives the PHARE funding and is able to set a budget.

The houses would be targeted to sell at $125,000 each, but would cost more than that, Costa said. The PHARE money would be used to make up the difference between the construction price and the sale price, he said.

The rehabilitation and construction program that's being proposed comes on the heels of a $200,000 effort to tear down abandoned and blighted houses in the area.

Neighborhood resident Shari Holland, who is part of a group called the Concerned Citizens of the Library District, said she's excited about the program.

"I really like that they are pairing the idea of new homes that will aesthetically fit the neighborhood, with providing resources for residents to rehabilitate the homes already here," she said.

If the program is funded, Costa said, the rehabilitation grants will only be available to households earning $36,500 or less per year.

The two new houses, if built, will have no income restrictions, he said.

"Our goal is to get some other reinvestment in the neighborhood," Costa said. "There are also hopes of re-developing the old Centennial School."

Because housing prices are so depressed in McKeesport, he said, it would be difficult for any private real estate developer to turn a profit on new home construction. ACTION and the city are hoping that the new houses, and rehabbing some existing houses, will help "prime the pump" for others to invest as well.

"What we've done in the past is invested in a (targeted) area, and what you notice pretty soon is other private investment, either across the street or on the same block," Costa said. "We're trying to get something going in that neighborhood. We'd like to see a wave of investment there."

Originally published October 13, 2017.

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