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$90M Larimer redevelopment proposal spurs debate by company, community

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The Hamilton-Larimer housing complex in Larimer on Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A vacant lot in Larimer on Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A vacant lot in Larimer on Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A vacant lot in Larimer on Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Disagreement could threaten a $90 million redevelopment proposal for one of Pittsburgh's most depressed neighborhoods.

The Pittsburgh Housing Authority wants to replace 155 units of low-income housing in Larimer, where the median income is barely half that elsewhere in the city, but residents say the proposal clashes with neighborhood planning that began years ago.

A $30 million federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant and $10 million in state tax credits — for housing and social programs — hinge on agreement.

“They refuse to acknowledge that this community process is a legitimate process and the interests that are represented in this process are legitimate interests,” said Malik G. Bankston, executive director of Kingsley Association in Larimer, which provides support programs for children and families in need.

“Their attitude is they know what's best for the neighborhood. We say, ‘By virtue of what? What is it that uniquely qualifies you to know what's better for this neighborhood?'”

Caster D. Binion, the housing authority's interim executive director, and Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess, who chairs the authority and represents Larimer on council, said disagreement can be expected in any large community project. They believe resolution will happen.

“At the end of the day, it will take all members of the community working together to achieve a goal. We're doing that now,” said Burgess of North Point Breeze.

The Housing Authority's plan combines several elements inextricably linked and includes a housing proposal by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The authority is partnering with East Liberty Housing Inc., a nonprofit that owns the East Liberty Gardens housing complex, to demolish 155 units of low-income apartments, including Hamilton-Larimer in Larimer and East Liberty Gardens.

Binion said HUD regulations require the authority to replace the apartments with an equal number. Forty of those, he said, would come through the URA. It hired Columbus, Ohio-based KBK Enterprises to build 40 low-income and 10 market-rate houses on vacant property the URA owns in Larimer. The cost is about $15 million, and KBK applied for $10 million in state tax credits, according to Robert Rubinstein, the URA's interim executive director.

The Housing Authority plans to use the URA project to leverage a $30 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant.

Development in East Liberty, including Bakery Square II and a Target store, could spill into Larimer if the neighborhood improves, officials said.

“Larimer is all connected to this success, but it doesn't show it physically,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park. “We have a chance to rebuild that neighborhood.”

If it receives the grant, the Housing Authority must come up with $60 million, which could include cash from government and foundations and the in-kind value of services provided by schools, nonprofits and health care providers, Binion said.

Community members say the KBK plan conflicts with an unfinished master plan that lays out locations for residential, commercial and recreational properties. The company did not return Tribune-Review calls or emails.

Bankston said KBK has not participated in planning and is unwilling to give people a say in locations for housing. KBK's plans ignore stipulations for housing to incorporate storm-water management devices such as rain barrels, gardens and building materials that maximize heating and cooling efficiency, he said.

Bankston said KBK refused to donate up to $3,000 for each unit it builds to a neighborhood fund that would offer grants and loans to homeowners for property repairs.

Roland Criswell, 35, owner of Coston Funeral Home in Larimer, said a bigger problem is that residents don't think the city included them in the development process.

“It's important for Downtown to really listen to what the residents want,” he said.

In August, then-Housing Authority Executive Director A. Fulton Meachem Jr. suspended planning for the HUD grant. No one can say why, and the Trib could not reach Meachem, now CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority.

Planning started anew last week, but Bankston said residents' distrust lingers.

“One of the things we learned by a lot of the community development work that was done in the 20th century was that if you put the wrong things in the wrong place, you'll live with the negative consequences and the fallout of that for 50 years,” Bankston said.

“All you have to do is look at East Liberty. It's taken 50 years to undo the mistakes that were made when East Liberty was redeveloped.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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