New senior complex planned in Hempfield

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Norma Wagner, 68, says moving into South Greengate Commons senior high-rise in Hempfield is "the best decision I've ever made. I love the facility, the people and the activities.”

She wanted to return to the area to be closer to family — her daughter lives in Greensburg and her son lives in Jeannette — and moved into the new complex just after it opened in the fall.

With demand for affordable senior citizen housing increasing in Westmoreland County, the county housing authority wants to build a second high-rise complex next to South Greengate Commons, which is just south of Route 30.

South Greengate Commons, a four-story, 45-unit complex of one-bedroom apartments, is full and has a waiting list of 25 people.

If tax credits can be obtained this year, the new $11 million high-rise would be constructed in 2015.

It would be called Odin View Apartments, a reference to the nearby Odin Municipal Golf Course, and would have a design that is similar to South Greengate Commons, according to Westmoreland County Housing Authority director Michael Washowich.

To be eligible to live there, a single person would have to be 62 years old and have an income under $27,600 a year, which is 60 percent of the average median income in the county. A couple would have to have a gross maximum income of less than $31,500.

Rent for a single individual would be about $520 a month, Mr. Washowich said.

Income guidelines are set by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority, he said.

According to U.S. Census figures, Westmoreland County has a larger population age 65 and older than the state, and the numbers are increasing in the county.

In 2012, 19.6 percent of county's estimated 363,000 residents — or about 72,000 people  — were age 65 or older, while statewide that year, 16 percent were in that age bracket, according to census figures. In 2000, about 18 percent of residents in Westmoreland County were age 65 or older.

The median annual household income for county residents in that age bracket was $31,500, according to the most recent community survey by the U.S. Census, for years 2008-2012. That put the county in the middle ranking for counties in the state.

“There is an increase in need for housing,” Mr. Washowich said. “Our seniors tell us they like quality housing, near to amenities. That’s why this location is so attractive, we have Westmoreland County Transit buses stop at the complex and [the buses] take [riders] to the Route 30 corridor businesses.”

Mrs. Wagner especially likes that buses stop every two hours during the week at South Greengate and she can easily go to a nearby Walmart and other stores.

But building senior high-rises is more complicated today than it was 20 years ago, when federal funds paid for most of the construction costs.

Today, building such housing for seniors involves a complex private-public partnership and means competing for tax credits for investors through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority.

“The federal government began this tax credit program in the mid-1990s, and it’s now about the only way that new, affordable senior housing can be built,” Mr. Washowich said.

“In March, we will apply to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority for $9 million in tax credits, but it is very competitive,” he said. "In every round, and there are two rounds a year, there are 100 to 150 applicants and only 30 that are approved. We should hear in July if we are approved in this round.”

The housing authority was successful in obtaining similar tax credits two years ago for  South Greengate Commons.

The authority is not permitted to apply for the tax credits, so it will form a joint entity with investors and developers, Mr. Washowich said. The tax credits will be sold to the investors.

The housing authority recently agreed to loan the entity $1 million, which will be paid back with interest over 15 years, he said. At that point, the authority will own the building.

“But we will manage the building and maintain it from the start,” he said.

The new high-rise will be built on 30 acres that the authority owns, and its administrative offices also are located there.

Dan Wukich, chairman of the housing authority board, likes the public-private partnership.

“There will be no county money in this second building, as there was in the first,” he said. "It’s an opportunity to provide housing without spending taxpayer money. I am a business person, so I’m not anxious to spend taxpayer money, and I think we’ve found a way to do that.”

He said private developers, like himself, also have begun to fill the need for senior living facilities because of the large number of baby boomers hitting retirement age.

Mr. Wukich is CEO of Quest Healthcare Development Inc. of Penn Township, and his company is building an assisted-living and personal care facility next to a nursing home it owns in Latrobe, he said.

South Greengate Commons apartments are about 850 square feet and have an open floor plan. A counter with stools is the only divider between the kitchen and a dining-living room area. Apartments have three tall windows in the living room, and one in the bedroom. Bathrooms have walk-in and handicapped-accessible showers or tubs.

The complex has a community room and laundry facilities on the first floor and smaller sitting rooms with computers on other floors.

"It has a key-entry system, and all doors are secured,” Mr. Washowich said. It also has security cameras.

“If you went there and tried to get in, you couldn’t. Like all our high-rises, you have to have a tenant card to enter,” he said.

In addition to South Greengate Commons, the housing authority has 18 senior citizen high-rises in all parts of the county, and their occupancy rate is about 95 percent, Mr. Washowich said. 

Jodi Pecze, manager at South Greengate Commons, said the authority began taking applications 120 days before the building opened and time-stamped and dated each application. It then determined income eligibility, interviewed applicants and conducted background checks. Ms. Pecze said the authority is not permitted to consider political connections when determining who will be selected.

“We have strict regulations and requirements by the PHFA that we have to follow,” she said.

Ms. Pecze said the South Greengate residents have quickly become good friends, with many getting together for potluck dinners and birthday celebrations.

“They are a really nice group of people here,” she said.

Mrs. Wagner, who was raised in Pittsburgh, moved back to the area from Florida, where she has two sons.

“I have met a lot of nice people,” she said. “It has really been great. I’m very grateful to be here."

To apply or for more information: www.wchaonline.com.


Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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