A state agency has awarded $300,000 to construct two new homes in the city's Library and Cultural District, and make improvements to 10 existing owner-occupied homes.
The award was one of 137, totalling $26.6 million statewide, announced Thursday by the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund.
"PHARE" money comes from a variety of sources, including real estate transfer taxes and marcellus shale gas drilling fees, and supports housing and community development initiatives in low and moderate income communities.
In addition to the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, the Seventh Ward neighborhood is also home to several churches, Twin Rivers Elementary School, the McKeesport Little Theater and other assets.
“Providing affordable homes is essential in helping our families and communities thrive,” state Rep. Austin Davis said. “Not only will this grant truly help those in need, but it will also sustain the pride of our artistic corridor.”
The grant will be administered by Pittsburgh-based ACTION-Housing, which in October began contacting library district homeowners to find out if their homes were in need of safety or structural upgrades.
“We’re very excited to be part of this project,” said Joe Costa, a housing associate at ACTION-Housing. “We hope this is the beginning of a multi-year investment in the Cultural District.”
The housing stock in the Seventh Ward --- which was once home to some of McKeesport's most prominent families --- is “unique and historic,” Costa said, and “among the best in the region.”
“Our intention is for this project to be a catalyst for future affordable housing development,” he said. “We hope to attract outside attention through this project by showing people that the Cultural District—and McKeesport as a whole—is an affordable, convenient, and welcoming place to live and is ready for new families to call home.”
PHARE --- sometimes referred to as the state's "Housing Trust Fund" --- is managed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko, who wrote to PHFA in support of the project, said the city is trying to “encourage homeownership and the sense of community” that comes along with it.
“When individuals and families purchase a home, they feel a sense of ownership in their neighborhood and the city as a whole,” he said. “They become stakeholders in our community.”
Cherepko's words were echoed by state Sen. Jim Brewster, who added that the Mon Valley needs affordable, quality housing to grow.
“Rebuilding the economic base and strengthening the foundation of any community requires an inventory of attractive housing that will support a growing region,” he said.
Other local projects that received PHARE funding this year include $500,000 toward the rehabilitation of the former Ohringer Furniture building in Braddock into apartments, as well as several programs in the city of Pittsburgh.
Originally published April 13, 2018.