Updated: Jul 21
By Elizabeth Perry
While a handful of protestors spoke out against the addition of more housing authority units in the McKees Rocks borough July 21, members of the Allegheny County Housing Authority Board of Directors gathered inside the McKees Rocks headquarters and voted to apply for the demolition of Hays Manor.
The demolition could be approved by HUD in as little as 100 days.
“We’re gonna knock it down and build a better community,” said Ed Primm, Choice Neighborhoods program manager.
The lone demolition application no vote was cast by Treasurer Sydney Hayden.
In 2021, the ACHA received a $450,000 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant, which was used to create a plan for new housing to replace the 138 units in Hays Manor. The application for the actual $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Grant is due for submission in late summer or early fall of 2023. A draft copy was submitted in June. An additional 102 units are being considered.
The protest was led by McKees Rocks resident Maribeth Taylor, who has been speaking out against the project for more than a year, and has tried to enlist other people in her cause. About seven people joined her, holding homemade signs with slogans like “Our Children Deserve Better, “Enough is Enough” and “Bait & Switch Again.”
Protesters included Hollowood Music & Sound Co-owner Don Hollowood and Aaron Stubna, co-owner of the Parkway Theater & Film Lounge in Stowe. Stubna, who has moved from Kennedy to a recently renovated building in the West Park region of Stowe, said he was at the protest as a way of “investing in my community.”
Gary Richter, who lives near Churchill Street in McKees Rocks, said he was there because Taylor said “something needs to happen.” Richter believed the purpose of Section 8 housing was not being fulfilled and that “there’s some corruption inherent in the way these programs are set up now.” He wondered aloud why no programs seem to find success in McKees Rocks, but when pressed to explain specifically what he meant, he deferred to Taylor.
Taylor said 50 people had promised to attend, but they became worried when accusations were made stating the root of the opposition to the Choice Neighborhoods program was racism.
“This is not a race issue. Poverty doesn’t see color,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the real issue is what she sees as a disproportionate number of subsidized housing projects in McKees Rocks and that the borough cannot prosper while being “inundated” with government housing.
The two combined communities that make up the Sto-Rox School District, house four housing developments and several senior housing structures operated by the housing authority.
Taylor has also created a change.org petition entitled "No More Public Housing in McKees Rocks.” It had 227 signatures as of July 21.
In response to the protest, Deputy Executive Director at ACHA Beverly Moore said, “People are entitled to their opinions. Sometimes they’re fair and sometimes they’re not, but I think Choice Neighborhoods is one of the best opportunities this area has."
Jonathan Backers, resident services coordinator for ACHA, said the protests against the grant and renovation of Hays Manor made many longtime residents feel unwanted. Backers said Hays Manor resident Katherine Eggleston organized a petition in support of the Choice Neighborhoods Grant and the revitalization of Hays Manor in response to the opposition being mounted by Taylor.
Eggleston lives in 18B McKee, has been at Hays Manor for 24 years and is a well-respected volunteer. Backers said leaders within the affordable housing community “respect her for her persistence.”
She feels that changing the footprint of Hays Manor will bring a “brighter outlook to the children and make them feel safer.” She’s looking forward to having more spacious units, the options of more playgrounds and green space as well as a site where parents can get help. Eggleston is envisioning a resource where moms and dads can get mental health help and develop social skills, “where they can have someone to talk to.”
Eggleston’s petition garnered 42 signatures so far, which means at least 30% of residents are in favor of the change.
“It’s very important that the developers do what they do and nobody needs to stop them,” Eggleston said.
Primm said once the Hays buildings are slated for demolition, residents will begin to be moved out of Hays Manor to other areas.
A similar relocation in Rankin cost between $400,000 to $500,000, and a similar demolition and remediation of the Rankin neighborhood called Hawkins Village cost $1.3 million, Primm said.
Once the demolition is approved, it will move forward with or without the approval of a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant.
“There’s no guarantee it’s coming through,” Primm said.