South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Affordable housing development draws concerns in So. Side

 

October 1, 2019



Density, saturation, stability, and security were among the concerns raised about the proposed Carson Square development by attendees at a Sept. 26 meeting with project representatives.

The meeting at the Brashear Center was hosted by the South Side Community Council.

The plan is to turn the vacant six-story building at 2112 Sidney St., formerly Sidney Square, which housed students until a year ago, into low-income affordable housing, including Section 8, with no age restrictions. Families, as well as seniors, would be welcome.

The developer, Standard Communities, also owns Carson Towers at 2117 East Carson St., which provides low income affordable housing to seniors. Winn Residential, which manages Carson Towers, would also manage Carson Square.

An attendee said while he would welcome new residents to the neighborhood, “a high-density population on a small lot is a big problem.”

Another attendee said that density, night life, and crime in the South Side adds a layer of complexity “that we don’t think you guys are recognizing.”

He said if police officers are called out at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night “we don’t need another building to add to that saturation.

Another resident said an additional 50 to 100 people “will overwhelm the neighborhood.”

“It is going to be stressful for us as neighbors.

“We had lots of problems with the previous property.

“It is a density issue,” a resident said.

Steven Kahn, of Standard Communities, said Carson Square is currently undergoing renovations “to make it feel less like a dorm and a bit more homey.” It should be completed by the end of the year, and accepting tenants shortly thereafter.

There will be 54 units, with 41 of the units 2-bedroom, and the other 13 having one bedroom. Leases will be for 12 months. No pets.

Of the 54 units, 46 will be “project-based” Section 8 housing, meaning that if a tenant moves out, the next resident of that unit will receive the Section 8 subsidy. The remaining eight units of the 54 will not be in the Section 8 program.

Under Section 8, a tenant pays 30 percent of their income towards rent while the federal government pays the rest. To be eligible for Section 8 housing, a person must be low income based on a percentage of what the government calls “area median income,” with area referring to the county.

“We’ve got a lot of experience with Section 8,” Mr. Kahn said. Standard Communities owns 8,600 affordable units across 45 properties nationwide.

“It is not often you can create affordable housing in such a nice area,” he said of the South Side.

As the property is zoned local neighborhood commercial (LNC), what is being proposed is permitted by right in the zoning code for LNC, said city Councilman Bruce Kraus, who has no issues with the proposal.

No variances of any kind are required.

Andy Lund, of Winn Residential, said full-time personnel would be hired for an on-site office in Carson Square. However, there is no plan at this time for anyone to be on site from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., although someone would always be available on call, he said.

Mr. Kahn said the details of staffing and operations would be finalized once the date of occupancy draws nearer.

“You should have at least a desk person, twenty-four hours,” an attendee said.

“The property has an extensive security system,” Mr. Lund said.

Parking will be in four nearby parcels which Standard Communities owns.

Most tenants in Section 8 housing do not have cars. Generally, they want to live in the area in which they work, said Hal Coffey of the Clark Hill law firm, which represents Standard.

Often, they work minimum wage jobs, Ray Baum of Clark Hill said, and need affordable housing in a location with transportation to their jobs.

To a question of how do you control if, say, a woman with three children moves her boyfriend in, Mr. Lund said the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, which runs the Section 8 program, has rules on how many people can live in a residence.

If there is bad behavior, HUD will take away a subsidy. There is also an eviction process. However, both take time.

An attendee who lives across from the building said when students resided there, they used her driveway as a loading zone.

Mr. Kahn said the new tenants will be informed on proper behavior and not do this.

Noise from the previous tenants was also a problem, she said, to which Mr. Kahn said such “quality-of-life issues” will be addressed.

“What’s good for the neighborhood is also good for us,” he said in finding solutions to resolve problems.

As smoking will not be allowed within 30-feet of the building, tenants will likely hang out in a nearby park to smoke, a resident said.

A few Carson Towers tenants in attendance cited various security lapses, such as non-tenants sleeping in the building’s workout room and coming inside to use the laundromat. Tenants likely let them in as a key is needed to enter Carson Towers.

Officials denied they no longer screen potential tenants.

‘We hear you,” Mr. Kahn said, noting he was not aware of the problems. He said management will work to find a resolution.

To a question of whether the city or the URA are subsidizing the project, Mr. Kahn said no. There is also no financial arrangement with the state, he said. The attendee also wondered, considering its investment, if the company would “bail” in three years due to a financial loss.

“We are long-term owner/operators. This is what we do,” Mr. Kahn said.

“We have every expectation that the property will be managed responsibly,” Mr. Kraus said.

As to the issues expressed that evening regarding Carson Towers, he said “We need to hear those problems so management is made aware of them as soon as possible and deal with it.

“If they don’t the city will bring it to their attention and expect resolution,” he said.

 

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