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Apartments proposed for former Wright's site in Heidelberg

Megan Guza
| 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

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