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Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund helps to preserve senior housing in the Hill

Western Manor is one of two senior buildings the Housing Opportunity Fund's actions will support.
Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Western Manor is one of two senior buildings the Housing Opportunity Fund's actions will support.

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

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

Milliones Manor and Western Manor are both parts of a former tuberculosis hospital campus that was converted in the 1990s to provide senior care and housing. Milliones Manor has 40 apartments and Western Manor has 32. Though the two face a shared courtyard, they rely on different ownership and funding models. Both are currently without a property manager, which Miller said is a “critical issue” for the residents and for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps to support Western Manor.

As WESA reported last fall, Western Manor has failed recent HUD inspections, which look at the overall condition of the building as well as safety issues.

Violating such standards puts residents “at risk of having operations terminated at the building,” Miller said — and that could mean current residents would lose their homes. In late 2017, for example, a group of homes called Bethesda-Homewood, which included single-family homes and apartment buildings clustered mostly in Homewood, with some in other East End neighborhoods, lost its HUD subsidy and many residents were displaced.

Miller noted that the URA generally jumps into projects once they are funded, but “this is a pretty exceptional case” because of the imminent risk of closure.

Western Manor needs a new roof, and has struggled with water infiltration and mold issues. The 40-year $500,000 loan from the Housing Opportunity Fund’s rental gap program would help address those issues. A $300,000 demonstration grant would pay outstanding bills owed at 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 “technical assistance” to the work planned for Western Manor. Hill CDC president and CEO Marimba Milliones serves on the board of the nonprofit that owns Western Manor. Other board members include Reverend John Cook, part of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association, and Daniel Wood, chief of staff to Pittsburgh City Councilor Daniel Lavelle. Milliones Manor is owned by Center City Apartments.

Board members unanimously supported the $800,000 allocation for both buildings. Several noted that they’d like to see the Housing Opportunity Fund do more to preserve affordable units throughout the city.

“There’s many opportunities like this in the community,” said Adrienne Walnoha, director of community health initiatives at Omicelo. She said she’d like to see the advisory board focus on how it could do more such work in the coming year: “This larger preservation conversation, especially with our community’s aging housing stock, is an important one.”

Lena Andrews, director of real estate development for nonprofit ACTION-Housing, agreed. She noted that it’s not uncommon for deterioration to take place in buildings financed through the HUD program that has supported Western Manor.

“There are a lot of other buildings that are facing these challenges,” she said. “This is a really exciting and creative use of [Housing Opportunity Funds].”

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