Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund helps preserve senior housing on the hill

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Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund on Thursday approved $800,000 to stabilize and preserve two affordable seniors’ housing buildings on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. The money will help in the short term to replace a roof and solve outstanding bills, while paving the way for longer-term redevelopment.

“Currently, the main objective of the [Urban Redevelopment Authority] is to preserve the quality of life for the residents of these buildings,” Evan Miller, URA housing policy manager, told the fund’s advisory board.

Milliones Manor and Western Manor are both part of a former tuberculosis hospital campus which was converted in the 1990s to provide care and housing for the elderly. Milliones Manor has 40 apartments and Western Manor has 32. Although the two face a common courtyard, they rely on different ownership and financing models. Both are currently without a property manager, which Miller says is a “critical issue” for residents and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps support Western Manor.

As WESA reported last fall, Western Manor has failed recent HUD inspectionswhich examine the general condition of the building as well as security issues.

Violating these standards puts residents “at risk of having operations terminated in the building,” Miller said — and it could mean current residents lose their homes. In late 2017, for example, a cluster of homes called Bethesda-Homewood, which included single-family homes and apartment buildings clustered primarily in Homewood, with some in other East End neighborhoods, lost his HUD grant and many residents were relocated.

Miller noted that the URA typically jumps into projects once they’re funded, but “that’s a pretty exceptional case” due to the imminent risk of closure.

Western Manor needs a new roof and has struggled with water infiltration and mold issues. The $500,000, 40-year loan from the Housing Opportunity Fund’s Housing Opportunity Fund program would help solve these problems. A demonstration grant of $300,000 would help pay outstanding bills owed to both Milliones Manor and Western Manor.

The Hill Community Development Corporation is part of a long-term effort to redevelop the entire campus and will provide “engineering assistance” for work planned for Western Manor. Hill CDC President and CEO Marimba Milliones sits on the board of the nonprofit organization that owns Western Manor. Other council members include the Reverend John Cook, who is part of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association, and Daniel Wood, chief of staff for Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle. Milliones Manor belongs to Center City Apartments.

Council members unanimously supported the allocation of $800,000 for the two buildings. Many said they would like to see the Housing Opportunity Fund do more to preserve affordable housing across the city.

“There are many opportunities like this in the community,” said Adrienne Walnoha, director of community health initiatives at Omicelo. She said she would like to see the advisory board focus on how it can do more of this type of work in the coming year: “This broader conversation about preservation, particularly with the park of aging housing in our community, is important.

Lena Andrews, director of real estate development for the nonprofit ACTION-Housing, agrees. She noted that it is not uncommon for deterioration to occur in buildings funded by the HUD program that supported Western Manor.

“There are many other buildings that face these challenges,” she said. “It’s a really exciting and creative use of [Housing Opportunity Funds].”

The URA board, which oversees the housing fund, still needs to approve the allocation at its regular meeting next week.

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