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By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Area residents unhappy with proposals that would build mixed income housing

 

January 30, 2007

Vacant land that once housed the majority of Arlington Heights was the subject of a community meeting in Arlington to discuss possible housing ventures. The property with views of the Monongahela River valley has entertained speculation that the land could be used as mixed income with a variety of units including rental and for sale housing.

A second meeting to discuss the future of the Arlington Heights development drew about 75 residents and 11 city and housing officials and representatives to St. Clair Athletic Association/Caliguiri Hall in Arlington.

The purpose of the meeting, said Councilman Jeff Koch, was to come up with amicable solutions to the housing site.

The 80-acre Arlington Ave. development houses about 130 people. The roughly 40 buildings which used to comprise the site now number seven. About 90 percent of the development is vacant.

Mr. Koch reiterated throughout the nearly two-hour meeting that there is no current plan, and that any future plan “won't be shoved down anyone's throat.”

“If we don't want it, it won't happen,” he said.

Fulton Meachem, Jr ., executive director of the city Housing Authority, said “Arlington Heights was, and is, part of this community.”

“We have more things in common than not in common,” he said of the local residents and public housing tenants.

He explained that any new housing development would be managed by the Housing Authority and a private management company. The mayor appoints the Housing Authority board which manages the agency.

While the Housing Authority owns the land, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided much of the funding for the purchase, so the agency's approval must be secured for any action.

“Our purpose is to change the face of public housing,” he said. In the “family self-sufficiency program,” residents receive training for more independent living. A “home ownership program” resulted in more than 50 residents buying a new home last year.

A national trend over the past 20 years in redeveloping public housing sites has been mixed income housing.

Mixed income housing is for residents with a wide range of incomes. It is comprised of a variety of housing types: rental, homeownership, private and subsidized, and in units ranging from stand-alone to duplexes/triplexes.

What differs among units is how the financing and payments are structured.

For example, Bedford Hill in the Hill District consists of public housing units, low-income tax credit affordable units, and market rate units.

Oak Hill in the Oakland/Hill District area is a 674-unit mixed income community with the look of a traditional city neighborhood.

To the question of how many units would be going into a new Arlington development, Mr. Koch said a rough draft from the URA is based on the existing structure, which will not be the new housing site.

But that draft included mostly single family, for-sale housing units and some rentals. Rentals could increase depending on how much of the hillside can be developed.

The number of units also isn't known as a developer will be looking to make a profit, said Mr. Meachem.

To a resident's concern of the impact on his property value, Mr. Meachem said it should rise. He has heard that the purchase price of houses on top of the hill will run from $150,000 to $300,000.

“They won't be on top of each other,” he said, as there will be small yards and other spaces.

But as property values rise, so does the tax bill.

To a complaint about Arlington Heights residents who allow friends and relatives to reside in their units, Mr. Meachem said to call the Housing Authority when people move in.

He also said that vagrants and riff-raff are drawn to vacant property — which is why it is important to invest money and redevelop the area.

When someone buys a $300,000 house, they don't want that kind of nuisance lurking around their property, he said.

To a question of how they plan to build on the mines beneath the property, Mr. Meachem said testing will be conducted.

But those are the kinds of issues which a to-be-formed steering committee — comprised of meeting attendees, Arlington Heights residents, and local business owners — will discuss, he said.

An attendee commented that no one at the Nov. 16 meeting was in favor of a development with rental housing. Without ownership, he said, tenants do not take care of the property, which lowers the quality of life in the neighborhood.

Mr. Koch said there are no neighborhoods in the city without rentals.

But if a consensus cannot be reached, the property will be simply green space.

Mr. Meachem added that some people are not ready for home ownership. The apartments, then, serve as a steppingstone to home ownership.

While home ownership is desirable at the site, there must be some rentals.

“Just because a person has an apartment doesn't mean they're riff-raff,” said Mr. Meachem.

Regarding Section 8 housing, an attendee complained that owners do not care about the quality of their tenants.

Mr. Meachem said the Housing Authority does not manage Section 8 tenants. It is the landlord's responsibility to cut the property's grass and to ensure that there are no drugs on the premises.

The Housing Authority conducts annual inspections to make sure codes are met.

If the Housing Authority is assisting in paying the rent of an undesirable Section 8 tenant, the agency will terminate the lease of the landlord. While the landlord will no longer receive Section 8 financing, it doesn't mean the landlord will go away.

The landlord may still rent to undesirables without Section 8 backing.

Attendees should call 311 with the address and concern of any property. It is the city's responsibility to find out who owns it, he said.

Mr. Meachem said he would next hold a meeting with Arlington Heights residents to solicit their input on all these matters.

At meeting's end, Mr. Koch asked interested residents to sign up to be on the steering committee for the “possible development of Arlington Heights.”

 

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