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Low-income complex in Homewood to offer programming

New seniors housing concept

Monday, September 10, 2001

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On a piece of land that once was Homewood's Silver Lake, construction is expected to begin this fall on a low-rise apartment complex for low-income senior citizens.

The complex, tentatively named Silver Lake Commons, is being touted as a new model for public housing for the elderly in Western Pennsylvania.

"This is a test," said Christopher Shea of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, who hopes to link elderly residents of the new public housing development to nutritional, health, recreational and social programs that never before were available to them.

"The whole logic is trying to help people stay out of nursing homes," said Shea, director of special projects and planning for the city housing authority.

Most of the 75 units in the new building will go to 59 residents of the East Hills High Rise, who will move to the facility after its completion.

The Silver Lake apartment complex is being developed as a public-private partnership, not a sole venture of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority.

Its developers are two nonprofit corporations, Presbyterian SeniorCare of Oakmont, a well-known provider of services for the elderly, and Affirmative Investments, a Boston-based organization that specializes in low-income housing.

Jim Pieffer, senior vice president of Presbyterian SeniorCare, said a management company that he heads, Senior Care Network, will be the property manager, collecting the rent and overseeing the property.

"The city will own the land and maintain a level of control but is turning it over to private developers," Pieffer said.

"They have to operate it as public housing for 99 years," Shea said.

He said getting additional services to indigent elderly residents is one way to keep them independent and out of nursing homes. His office is working with the Allegheny County Department of Aging to try to get indigent seniors eligible for services that will enable them to remain independent.

"Right now, if you are very poor, there are no assisted-living programs in Pennsylvania. You just wait until you are so bad that you go into a nursing home," Shea said.

Presbyterian SeniorCare has the ability to provide optional services for the elderly, such as health and wellness programs, but "someone has to pay for them," Shea said.

Last week, the city planning commission recommended that the zoning administrator approve plans for the three-story apartment building with 75, one-bedroom units.

The new 65,000-square-foot masonry and siding building will have a pitched roof and a 22-space parking lot in the rear. It will be independent living for senior citizens at least 62 years old who meet federal income levels for low-income housing.

Construction should begin in the late fall and will take about a year to complete, said Stefani Danes, an architect with Perkins Eastman Architects, Downtown, and design team leader.

Shea said the building is expected to cost about $11 million. About half the money will come from traditional federal sources, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The remainder will come from federal income tax credits that are sold to private corporations as investments.

Shea said the unusual financial structure will bring the building under scrutiny from many agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service.

Danes said the building will bring elderly residents back into a neighborhood that many of them remember from their youths.

"It is not being built as a high rise, but as a building that has a porch, a yard and a more traditional relationship to its neighborhood," Danes said.

She said its location next to the new YWCA, Homewood-Brushton Center, will provide better access to programs at the Y and to other neighborhood institutions, such as the library and churches.

"It will not be isolated, like traditional public housing," Danes said.

Danes said each apartment can be made accessible for a handicapped resident. Each unit has its own heating and cooling system. The building will have small meeting rooms on the main level where seniors can have Bible studies, birthday parties or arts and crafts programs.

"We spent a lot of time thinking about people who grew up in the city and how they would like to live," Danes said.

Mary Robinson, 76, president of the East Hills High Rise tenants council, said members of the tenants council helped the housing authority pick the site.

"I think it is marvelous. We are all excited about the new building," she said.

Once the 59 residents of the East Hills tower are moved to Homewood, the high rise will be sold.

Sarah Campbell, a Homewood resident for 52 years, said the community is happy to have the new complex. She also likes the idea of something new rising from the property that once was the site of a popular lake.

"At one time, that was Silver Lake and it was drained," Campbell said.

"We are rediscovering history."

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