New Kensington project: Right plan, wrong place?
New Kensington is going to get a new multi-million dollar development downtown, which the mayor is calling the largest building to be built in many years.
Any development in the long-beleaguered downtown, which is pockmarked with empty storefronts, would be welcomed.
But our feelings about this project are tempered by the fact that it includes yet more subsidized housing in a city that has plenty of so-called senior citizen high-rises, county housing projects, privately operated subsidized housing and Section 8 housing dotting several neighborhoods.
How much can, or should, one town bear when it comes to subsidized housing?
The plan, itself, being proposed by Wesley Family Services, is commendable for its clients. Wesley offers supported housing for about 200 people in apartments and 20 group homes spread over four counties.
Tenants for the 36-unit Pioneer Apartments, planned for what's now a parking lot, are expected to come from those locations and from public housing.
Also envisioned for the four-story building are offices for Wesley Family Services, as well as for mental health treatment, drug counseling and economic development that its clients and others could utilize.
“We think we have a distinct advantage of co-locating mental health and other human services in the same building with people who, at times, have problems maintaining a place in public housing,” said Steven Christian-Michaels, a high-ranking Wesley official and of the related Family Services of Western Pennsylvania.
Wesley is receiving plenty of government help: about $10 million in tax credits and $500,000 through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund.
State Sen. Jim Brewster, whose 45th District includes New Kensington, called the funding “essential to growing and bettering our communities” and “the right thing to do.”
We agree on that point.
And it's important to note that the building would be taxable.
But we question whether the project will be an “anchor” or a boon to New Kensington's larger plans to replace blighted properties with new development.
New Ken has some momentum on its side, with the newer Westmoreland County Community College branch being joined on the other end of town by the Penn State-driven Corridor of Innovation effort, the planned rejuvenation of Schreiber Industrial Park and a trickle of new businesses throughout.
While Pioneer Apartments is great for Wesley Family Services and the people it helps, we're not sure how this development continues New Kensington's upward trend.