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Homewood residents seek answers about upcoming neighborhood projects

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 9:27 p.m.

Homewood residents peppered government officials and developers with questions Tuesday about residential projects planned for the neighborhood in coming months.

Residents worried about how low-income housing would impact property values and taxes. They also wanted more information about the projects.

City officials this year announced plans for five major housing projects totaling about $50 million in Homewood. It includes low-income and market-rate apartments and town houses.

“We're concerned about our taxes, and we're talking about our property values,” said Denise Smith-Russell, who has owned her home on Park Lane Drive for 27 years.

Smith-Russell was responding to plans outlined by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio-based KBK Enterprises to build 58 town houses on Kelly Street near her property.

The development includes 42 low-income rentals and 16 at market rates.

Charlene Haislip, president-elect of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, who attended the meeting, said the project would probably devalue surrounding properties.

“The properties around it are not going to increase in value,” she said. “They're likely going to decrease.”

Caster Binion, the housing authority's executive director, disagreed.

“That's your opinion,” he said.

Keith Key, KBK's president and CEO, said monthly rents would range from $744 for low-income units up to $1,300 for market rate.

“We want to make sure it's done right,” he said. “We want to make sure you're pleased. I never had a project that didn't happen that way.”

Nearly 100 people gathered in the Carnegie Library's Homewood branch for the meeting sponsored by the Homewood Concerned Citizens organization for more information about 170 single-family homes and townhouses planned for the neighborhood.

Developers include S&A Homes of State College; Building United of Southwestern Pennsylvania of Homewood; and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh of Homewood.

Officials said the development signals a major change for Homewood where median incomes range from $15,000 to $25,000 and more than 1,000 houses stand vacant. City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents Homewood, said investors for a first time in years are calling his office to inquire about opportunities in the neighborhood.

Thomas Cummings, director of housing for Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the URA recently completed the purchase of the former Homewood school on Hamilton Avenue for $250,000. He added that the authority has no immediate plans for the building, but said it could be demolished or renovated for a future use.

“If you don't know what you're going to do with it, why is the URA buying it in the first place?” asked Michelle Jackson of Homewood.

Cummings said the URA would meet with residents to find out what they would like to happen with the property.

“We're really looking for direction from the community,” he said.

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