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Demolition of 1,600 city housing units gets final OK

Friday, February 26, 1999

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Housing Authority has received final approval from the federal government to demolish more than 1,600 public housing apartments and relocate nearly 700 families starting this spring. The authority also received word of a hefty budget cut.

Most of the relocations this year will be from the 56-year-old Arlington Heights development, east of South Side Slopes, where about 150 people will be forced to leave. Officials said residents would get help in moving.

Housing Authority director Stanley Lowe said yesterday that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be cutting its allocation to the authority by 7.5 percent this year, or up to $5 million.

But neither Lowe nor the authority Chairman, Herb Elish, would comment on whether the reduction will force layoffs of employees or cuts in services to the authority's 13,200 low-income residents. City Council member Sala Udin, a board member, would not comment either.

Moreover, they would not make public a copy of the $59.8 million budget for 1999, which the board passed unanimously without any discussion at its meeting yesterday.

The funding cut, like the order to demolish apartment units, came from Congress.

Paul LaMarca, director of public housing in HUD's Pittsburgh office, said federal appropriations guidelines called for the nation's 3,400 housing authorities this year to receive 92.5 percent of their former funding.

Because federal funding also is tied to the number of units authorities manage, the city Housing Authority will face even deeper cuts once it starts demolition.

"Congress has changed the way we do public housing. The world of public housing has changed, and the changes are happening faster than we can comprehend," Lowe said.

The demolition plans resulted from strict new guidelines on financing of public housing developments that Congress issued in 1996. The guidelines ordered authorities to study the cost of renovating large developments and determine whether it was cheaper to demolish them and give residents rental vouchers to live in private housing.

If private housing was judged to be cheaper, Congress said, the developments had to be demolished. That was the case with most of Pittsburgh's large public housing developments.

Over the next five years, plans are for 1,678 Housing Authority apartments to be demolished and 681 families relocated. The relocations will cost about $1,000 per household, or $681,000, which the authority will pay for with part of a $7.5 million HUD demolition grant.

Authority officials said they will establish relocation offices at each affected community to help residents plan for moves, and perform door-to-door relocation surveys of tenants to tell them their options. Tenants can choose to move to available units in their current communities or other public housing communities, or they can move to private housing with or without Section 8 vouchers.

Relocations will begin in the spring when the weather is better and environmental impact studies are done. The studies will note the design and historic value of sites, and will be filed with local, state and federal authorities.

Arlington Heights, a hilltop community that is 31 percent vacant, will have 24 of its 31 buildings demolished. Smaller-scale demolitions this year will force more than 50 people to move from apartments in St. Clair Village, southwest of Arlington Heights, and Northview Heights, which overlooks Route 279 north of Downtown.

Over the next three to five years, about 450 elderly residents will be moved from high-rises at Addison Terrace in the Hill District, Auburn Towers in Larimer and Garfield Heights in Garfield. Housing Authority officials have promised to build new apartments for elderly residents before they are moved.

Another 50 residents might have to move from the 157 apartments in the East Hills High-Rise, which the authority plans to sell. In all, the final plans say 1,835 of the authority's apartments will be demolished or sold, cutting the authority's current housing stock of 9,200 units by 20 percent.

At Arlington Heights, former tenant council president Linda Brown-Roach said residents are concerned about where their children will go to school, how to secure rental vouchers for private housing, and if their moves will clash with state welfare-to-work requirements that take effect Wednesday.

Residents also worry if they will be welcome at Addison Terrace and Northview Heights, where many are likely to move, she said.

"The mood is disbelief," she said. "We have our backs against the wall and we have no decision, but this is something we have to do."

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