ShareThis Page

Apartments proposed for former Wright's site in Heidelberg

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Federal tax credits could help convert the former Wright's Seafood Inn in Heidelberg into housing for both low-income residents and individuals with autism.

ACTION Housing and the Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh plan to turn the commercial property at 1837 Washington St. into the 42-unit Heidelberg Apartments, with half of the units dedicated to individuals with autism and half as dedicated low-income housing.

“This is a different type of autism housing community than we're seeing throughout the country,” said Elliot Frank, president of Autism Housing Development, a nonprofit group based in Wexford. “They are integrated into the community instead of just being kept separate.”

Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of developmental disorders that affects an individual's social skills and ability to communicate.

In 2013, there were about 8,400 adults diagnosed with autism in Pennsylvania, according to ASERT, an initiative through the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

The apartments are one of three housing projects in Allegheny County that have received a collective $2.7 million in federal tax credits. Developers can sell the tax credits to investors for construction funds.

Steve Muller, executive director of The Homestead, a program in Iowa that provides community- and campus-based services to individuals with autism, said it is important to provide integrated community approach to housing as a choice.

“We should be providing a menu of options to individuals with autism and their families, and we should to testing to see what is most effective and efficient.”

He said integrated housing is a cost-effective housing model.

“It is a really challenging time today for families to navigate the host of autism services providers,” he said. “I applaud any entity that provides a way to services this population and its families.”

Frank said the idea for the housing community came from a speech by Randy Lewis, former vice president of chain supply and logistics for Walgreens. His son has autism, and in 2002, Lewis spearheaded an effort to employ more individuals with disabilities within the country.

Ron Ciotti, senior developer for ACTION Housing, said that they might install special lighting and sound-proofing measures for apartments for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, who often are sensitive to certain or too much stimuli.

Otherwise, he said, “it's really going to look like a typical apartment building.”

Residents will need a card to enter the secured building. Entrances will be monitored by a closed-circuit television. Rent will be in the range of $600 to $700.

The most important component, Frank said, will be the social services provided by NHS Human Services, based out of Lafayette Hill. Participation in the social-services programs will be voluntary.

“We can't just put people with autism in a building,” he said. “We won't have 24-hour services, but there will be services available and training such that they can function in the community and the workplace.”

Frank said helping residents with autism find employment will be another key component. Representatives from Giant Eagle, which has a disability-inclusion program, have offered to educate local businesses leaders on the benefits of employing individuals with disabilities.

There has been interest in the project from around the country, Frank said.

He said Heidelberg officials seem appreciative of the interest in redeveloping the property, which has been vacant since 2010. The restaurant was open for more than a century.

A town-hall meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 24 at the Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department social hall to discuss the planned redevelopment.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.