McKeesport Housing Corp. honors longtime board member, employee
Les Petras is retiring from the McKeesport Housing Corp. that he has served for 28 years.
Petras, a collections representative for the corporation, was a volunteer board member when the organization was founded in 1985 as a nonprofit dedicated to improving the city's housing stock.
“(Then-Mayor) Lou Washowich tapped me on the shoulder in Giant Eagle and asked me if I would like to serve on a board,” Petras recalled Thursday at a retirement luncheon in the corporation's office at city hall. “The first thing I said to him was, ‘If it's for McKeesport … Yes, gladly.'”
Petras, a lifelong city resident, said he is happy to have served his hometown.
“It was just before the housing corporation's founding that we suffered the loss of National Tube,” Petras said. “People started to look out of town for jobs. There was a need for (assistance) because of all the elderly people who elected to stay here.”
With residents getting by on as little as $485 per month, Petras said, there was a need to service their homes.
The corporation was established as a 501(c)3 sub-recipient of city-entitled funds. It has received between $250,000 and $300,000 per year to fund owner-occupied home improvement projects, and it grew to include ownership and rental programs.
“We were an independently run nonprofit,” solicitor Steve F. Kessler said. “We were a quasi-public corporation, not under the control of the mayor's office.”
With decades of experience in the banking industry, Petras recognized the need to finance projects for residents who were denied other borrowing opportunities.
“At first, the banks didn't understand what we were doing,” Petras said. “Interest rates were a lot higher than they are now, and we were using a simple interest of 6 percent. We gave everybody a loan. Nobody got denied.”
Petras served as a board member under the guidance of Dennis Pittman, who bookended his time as the housing corporation's executive director with city jobs as community development director and city administrator. When Pittman returned to city hall in 2004, Petras retired from banking and became the housing corporation's director.
Petras passed the torch to Jim Haughey in 2010, but stayed on board with a smaller work load as a collections representative.
“He wanted to take a step back, but his experience was an essential component to our organization,” Haughey said. Petras agreed to stay on a part-time basis to help with collections.
“Since 2000, our loan performance has improved significantly,” Petras said. “We have fewer defaults and delinquencies.”
McKeesport Housing Corp. chairman Bill Richards has known Petras nearly all of his life. Both are 1955 graduates of McKeesport High School's vocational program.
“Les has always been a truly pleasant guy,” Richards said. “He always has a good word for you. He's positive and easygoing.”
Petras said his retirement, effective Sunday, doesn't mean he won't be a regular visitor to the housing corporation office. He said he plans to keep in touch and will remain available for guidance when necessary.
Information about McKeesport Housing Corp. is available online at www.mckhousingcorp.org or by calling 412-664-7003.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.