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Grant to help repair blighted Westmoreland homes, aid the disabled

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 11:45 p.m.
Westmoreland County officials hope to use money from a state grant to help a home ownership program run by the redevelopment authority, which renovates blighted properties such as this house on Wayne Avenue in Greensburg and sells them to low-income people.
Jason Cato
Westmoreland County officials hope to use money from a state grant to help a home ownership program run by the redevelopment authority, which renovates blighted properties such as this house on Wayne Avenue in Greensburg and sells them to low-income people.
Westmoreland County officials hope to use money from a state grant to help a home ownership program run by the redevelopment authority, which renovates blighted properties such as this house on Wayne Avenue in Greensburg and sells them to low-income people.
Jason Cato
Westmoreland County officials hope to use money from a state grant to help a home ownership program run by the redevelopment authority, which renovates blighted properties such as this house on Wayne Avenue in Greensburg and sells them to low-income people.

As many as 35 disabled and low-income homeowners in Westmoreland County could receive financial assistance under a new state grant secured this week to rehabilitate blighted residences.

The $175,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency will be used to renovate two or three homes purchased by the county's land bank and to install ramps and stair lifts in others, according to April Kopas, director of the county's redevelopment authority.

“We get calls all the time, usually from residents who need assistance,” she said. “At a bare minimum, we want to make sure we can continue keeping those people in need in their homes.”

Officials said about $120,000 of the state money will be earmarked for the county's home ownership program, run by the redevelopment authority, which renovates blighted properties and sells them to low-income people.

Those homes are owned by the land bank, which has acquired dozens of blighted properties, including former industrial sites, throughout the county in an effort to return them to the tax rolls.

While the former Monsour Medical Center site along Route 30 in Jeannette has been the land bank's highest-profile project since its inception, the group recently completed renovation of two vacant homes, one in Jeannette and another in Greensburg. A third in Derry Township is slated for completion next month.

For the next round of renovations, the land bank is evaluating vacant homes purchased in Trafford, Irwin, Mt. Pleasant Borough and Latrobe.

“We're going to bring the homes up to code and make sure they are efficient so the new homeowner can afford the utilities,” Kopas said.

The second component of the grant is the relaunch of a program that was halted a decade ago because of a lack of money.

Kopas said about 30 percent of the grant will be used to install wheelchair ramps and stair lifts in homes for low-income, permanently disabled residents whose annual income does not exceed $35,600. The money initially will pay for installations in about 32 homes, and more work is planned using another $100,000 in matching local funds that the county is required to contribute.

Commissioner Charles Anderson said the county has agreed to find that money, but officials are still working to identify the source.

“We'll do what we have to to make it happen. It will make life easier for some of the people we need to help. That's what this is all about,” Anderson said.

The county will accept applications for the program starting June 1. Applications will be reviewed by a new advisory board that will include representatives from the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging, Department of Veterans' Affairs and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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