Former McKeesport YMCA transformed into housing for needy

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The former McKeesport YMCA was rededicated this week as McKeesport Downtown Housing, an 84-unit structure that houses homeless and low-income individuals.

The structure on Sinclair Street, built in 1922, has previously provided housing. When the YMCA of McKeesport merged with the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, the building was set to be demolished, but in 2010 ACTION-Housing Inc. started managing the building to preserve it as well as to provide housing.

Lifelong McKeesport resident Herman Rosner was on hand for the dedication and ribbon-cutting Tuesday. The 96-year-old World War II Army veteran was one of the first to speak out against the demolition of the building, and a room inside the McKeesport Downtown Housing building has been named after him.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said at the ceremony, which was held in the Herman Rosner Community Room.

“I was one of the top leaders of the idea,” Mr. Rosner said of maintaining the building as housing for homeless people. “We accomplished a lot,” he said. The only thing he regretted was that the pool inside the building was not kept.

“When the YMCA moved, 84 people faced the prospect of losing their homes,” said Patrick Fenton, deputy director of ACTION-Housing. Mr. Fenton said the Allegheny County Department of Human Services was concerned that the housing would be lost.

“We substantially renovated four floors,” said Linda Metropulos, director of housing and neighborhood development for ACTION-Housing. In the renovation, all athletic facilities were repurposed into usable space, except for the gymnasium, which is still accessible to residents.

“It’s a really important project for our community and our county,” Ms. Metropulos said.

The facility is made up of 84 single-residence rooms containing 120 to 130 square feet of space. Each room has a bed, table, closet and microwave. A handful of the rooms have private bathrooms. Seven kitchens were added to the building.

Ms. Metropulos said before the renovation, there were no kitchen facilities in the building.

The kitchens, which anyone living in the facility can use, include a stove or induction cooking hotplates, refrigerators and sinks. The building also has a laundry and computer room.

“There has been substantial improvement to the quality of the units,” Ms. Metropulos said. She added she hopes that the facility will “help people live more independent and stable lives.”

The facility is geared toward people who are homeless and/or need transitional housing.

“It’s a critical piece of caring for people in our community,” Ms. Metropulos said.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald attended the dedication.

“It really is exciting,” he said. “It’s great to be able to provide a service for people here.” He called the project a “real collaboration that makes us the special community that we are.”

Stephen Bucklew, executive director of McKeesport Housing Authority, said at the dedication ceremony that he had been a member at the former YMCA for 15 years.

“This is a great historic building,” Mr. Bucklew said. He called it a “cornerstone” of McKeesport.

“Compassion is alive in McKeesport today,” said Bob Nelkin, president of the United Way of Allegheny County. “Without this project, people would be on the street or moving from house to house or sofa to sofa.”

In addition to the dormitory-style living, the building will continue to operate its cold-weather shelter and Health Care for the Homeless service.

By using an allocation of low-income housing tax credits as well as public and philanthropic support, ACTION-Housing was able to refurbish the building to make it more environmentally friendly. The building was insulated and a 22-well geothermal system was installed. The renovation is expected to significantly reduce the energy use of the building and lower operating costs.

The $10.5 million project was funded through PNC Bank. Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh Foundation provided gap financing. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency allocated the low-income housing tax credits, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development and McKeesport Housing Authority are handling operating support. The project was designed by Thoughtful Balance Architects, Repal Construction and Iams Consulting.

Deana Carpenter, freelance writer:

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