Manchester Hope VI residents and tenant council members, from left, president Carmon Winmon, vice president Jala Rucker and Amy Walker, in front of Miss Rucker’s home.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pittsburgh Housing Authority board is expected to approve a resolution today to buy 86 rental homes and apartments in Manchester that were built in the 1990s as Hope VI, a step away from public housing as society then knew it.
Hope VI was an innovative venture of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to change public housing from the bunker housing known as projects to actual homes and apartments integrated with market-rate homes. The purpose was to give low-income people role models on how to be homeowners. HUD allowed local housing authorities to contract with private companies to own and manage the properties.
In Pittsburgh, Hope VI sites are in Manchester, the Hill and West Oakland. Twenty years later, in Manchester, the housing authority now is taking the reins back from private Pennrose Properties.
In recent years, residents said, maintenance has been so lacking that they formed a tenant council last year and called on national, state and local officials for help after their complaints about mold, leaky roofs and broken fixtures largely went unanswered.
Pennrose did not return calls for comment.
“We are taking control to stabilize these properties and improve quality of life,” said Caster Binion, the authority’s executive director, at a meeting of Hope VI residents this week at the Pennsylvania Bidwell apartments. “When we pass this resolution Thursday, you will receive the rights and privileges of other housing authority residents.”
Repairs and rehabs will start once the authority has ownership, he said. He did not disclose the cost of the purchase, saying it was still in negotiation.
Tenant council president Carmon Winmon is a Hope VI resident of 18 years.
“The first two or three years, everything was nice, [Pennrose] kept everything up,” she said. In more recent years, conditions have become “embarrassing, cabinets falling apart, everything falling apart.”
Meanwhile, rents go up, she said.
“That’s what brought us all together,” said Jala Rucker, tenant council vice president. “We have been working on this for over a year.”
Hope VI Manchester was built in phases. Each phase transitioned out of its original 20-year tax credit period in a different year. The last transitioned out last year. The housing authority may seek new tax credit partners to pay for renovations, repairs and new fixtures and carpeting that have never been upgraded.
“Why should people have to live like that?” said Amy Walker, a tenant council member who said her furnace leaked and crumbled her bathroom ceiling.
There have been no new Hope VI sites since 2010, when the federal government shifted focus to fund a new partnership model called Choice Neighborhoods. The old Hope VI guidelines remain, however, and the properties can continue to use tax credits as in the past, said said housing authority spokeswoman Michelle Sandidge.
Tenants qualify for Hope VI units by earning any portion of income below the area median. Oak Hill in West Oakland and Bedford Dwellings in the Hill are the city’s other Hope VI sites, each with a different owner-manager.
The housing authority will provide Manchester’s Hope VI families with a self-sufficiency office with program support for general education, employment training, home-ownership education and an escrow account into which a portion of rent is set aside as a down payment for future purchase of a home.
City Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he got involved after “a number of residents reached out to my office last year with concerns over the state they were living in. I held numerous meetings with them and with the property owners.
“Something needed to be done,” he said. “[Pennrose] determined that the best way to move forward was to sell to the housing authority. Once it has control, it can begin working on backdated work orders. Some residents have been waiting at least two years” for repairs. “Then we’ll begin the process of finding long-term refinancing.”
The authority’s 21st-century model has been to divest of its large properties, but it is pivoting to begin buying vacant and blighted sites to ensure affordability.
“We are making a push to purchase homes throughout the city and put them in our scattered site portfolio because there is a need for affordable housing,” Ms. Sandidge said. “It is no longer feasible for us to build, but to buy or rehab is something we can do.
“We are in the business of housing,” she said. “Manchester happened to be what it is, and we happened to be able to rise to the occasion at this time.”
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.