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Housing Authority considers eliminating efficiency apartments

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, May 14, 2012, 7:27 a.m.

Westmoreland County housing officials want to overhaul senior citizen housing in an effort to provide better living quarters for its tenants.

A study recently completed by the county Housing Authority explored the feasibility of eliminating 127 efficiency apartments as a way to decrease its vacancy rate.

More than half - 52 percent - of the senior citizen apartments owned by the authority are without bedrooms. The authority currently lists 96, or nearly 10 percent of its senior citizen units, as vacant. Efficiencies account for 73 of the unoccupied apartments.

'Efficiency apartments aren't real attractive,' said authority Executive Director Michael Washowich. 'A lot of senior citizens come from single-family homes and are accustomed to having more space.'

Officials are looking at the possibility of converting many efficiency and one-bedroom units in five senior citizen high-rises into larger apartments.

The buildings identified for the potential renovations are Eastgate Manor and Valley Manor in Monessen, Latrobe Manor, Kensington Manor in New Kensington and Parnassus Manor in Arnold.

Authority officials said the 127 targeted efficiencies in those buildings could be converted to 56 additional one-bedroom apartments and 24 more two-bedroom units. In all, the plan would reduce the total number of apartments available to senior citizens by 47.

'If we could go back in time we would say it was a bad design idea. We were required (by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to build efficiency apartments,' Washowich said.

The renovations plans are still in the preliminary stages. There are as yet no cost estimates for the proposed renovations, although Washowich said he expects the needed money would come in the form of federal grants.

Washowich said he expects it would take about two years should the authority decide to move ahead with the renovation plans.

Meanwhile, housing authority officials took a step toward creating a subsidized home ownership program for low-income residents.

Authority board members voted Tuesday night to hire a consultant to help in formulating the program. The cost for the consultant is still being negotiated.

The program would provide public subsidies to help residents in making down payments or mortgage assistance towards the purchase of homes. The authority now, through HUD, provides rent subsidies, but has no plan in place for home ownership.

Washowich has said he wants to have the home ownership program in place sometime next year.

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