Nonprofit ready to rent New Kensington duplexes to low-income tenants
By Braden Ashe
Published: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A local nonprofit organization is searching for low-income tenants to occupy two duplexes it purchased in July from the New Kensington Redevelopment Authority.
The Parnassus developments along Freeport Street were listed two years ago as part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that stemmed from the 2008 financial crisis.
Kimberly McAfoose, redevelopment authority executive director, said the structures were designed to sell as low-income, owner-occupied residences when they were put on the market in late 2010.
But after almost three years without a potential buyer, the authority deferred to a backup plan and sold each duplex last month for $160,000 to Westmoreland Community Action. The nonprofit assists struggling families and individuals across the county with housing, child development and employment services.
Westmoreland Community Action will rent the four units to low-income families at an affordable rate and provide mandatory rental counselling to its tenants, McAfoose said.
“We're very excited to have the buildings in the hands of an organization like Westmoreland Community Action,” she said. “It's great to see the realization of the program's goals at a local level.”
The redevelopment authority was one of thousands of local government agencies that received grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It was established after the housing market collapse in 2008 to stabilize struggling communities through the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned residential properties.
The two Parnassus properties were among nine that the authority purchased and rehabilitated with a $1.3 million grant from the Bush-era program.
The redevelopment group contracted Moret Construction more than three years ago to demolish the blighted Freeport Street structures and replace them with the duplexes.
“The buildings were abandoned and had extreme structural and aesthetic issues,” McAfoose said. “But now people will have a beautiful place to live there.”
New Kensington City Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti praised the authority as a city benefactor and recognized the impact its efforts have on the entire community.
“It definitely betters the neighborhood and encourages neighbors to compete with the buildings' appearance,” he said. “But most importantly, it puts that property back on the city tax roll.”
Jeff Diehl, Westmoreland Community Action chief financial officer, said the Neighborhood Stabilization Program is independent of the housing choice voucher program under Section 8.
Still, those who apply to rent through the organization are subject to some conditions. Namely, their annual income must fall below the poverty threshold.
“Whoever lives there is getting a great deal,” he said. “The homes are new and extremely energy-efficient, so they won't have to worry about high utility bills.”
Each of the four units contains three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living area.
“The units are spacious and laid out well,” Diehl said. “The redevelopment authority really transformed that property.”
McAfoose said the authority had a brief window to commit its grant when the program was implemented or it forfeited its right to draw the money. Within a year, it bought nine foreclosed properties across New Kensington.
The duplexes in the Freeport Street 400 block succeed a 600-block development that the authority rehabilitated and sold several years ago.
The development group demolished five of the other foreclosed buildings and sold the properties to adjacent neighbors.
“The idea was to raise the property value,” McAfoose said. “The land was sold with adjoining deeds, so they couldn't be sold for profit. People didn't want to live next to a dilapidated abandoned building and they wanted more lawn space.”
Only one property has yet to sell to the neighbors after the authority demolished its structure. McAfoose couldn't recall the exact location, but said it was on the hill between Constitution Boulevard and Freeport Road.
Any surplus in funds or sale revenue made by the authority is returned to the federal government, according to McAfoose.
The redevelopment group has no imminent plans for future development as it waits for additional grants to come their way.
“As soon as the money comes,” she said, “we'll start planning again.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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