By: J. Hogan
When is enough, enough? Meetings are being held in McKees Rocks with the Allegheny County Housing Authority to talk about the disposition of the Hays Manor public housing community.
Ideas, all involving more engagement with ACHA, abound.
It can’t legally be rebuilt in the same stacked, packed design of old, so the county is proposing a smaller plan on the site, and the purchase of more property in McKees Rocks to disperse the residents throughout the community. Allegheny County’s position has long been that if Hays Manor – or any other of the myriad county projects in the Sto-Rox area – should no longer be in town, the town then would have to help rehome the residents.
Here’s another idea. NO.
Our combined town area, by the metric used by the county itself, has five of the county’s public housing facilities.
The combined land of Stowe Township and McKees Rocks Borough is 3.4 square miles. Allegheny County covers 730 square miles, and has 58 combined low-income and/or senior highrises and communities. Our towns have carried much more of the weight than is reasonable for nearly seven decades.
Hays Manor can’t be rebuilt as is, and it shouldn’t be rebuilt as an ACHA property at all. More than any other of the ACHA properties in town, Hays Manor hurts the town.
It sits yards from the riverbank, sandwiched between the town’s only – and perpetually substandard – shopping area and the empty and ready-to-build reclaimed brownfield spanning from Stowe through the river bottom former railyard of McKees Rocks. Some see the possibility of $50+ million in implementation funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring in more public housing areas and a newer version of Hays Manor as an investment in the town.
That’s small-minded. Imagine freeing up that area to connect the riverbank at the mouth of Chartiers Creek with the space running all the way down to Presston. That land, with the multiplying effect of right usage, should be quite valuable.
Homestead has the Waterfront and Freeport the Waterworks, both miles further from the heart of the city, both containing nice restaurants, cinemas, national stores and full service supermarkets. Both brought hundreds of millions of dollars of investment into those former contaminated steel town brownfields.
We need to get rid of the problem, not recreate it again
Yet here, under three miles from downtown Pittsburgh, where we have a long sought after and hard-foughtfor midsized concert venue bringing in national acts (Wynonna Judd, Dragonforce, and New Found Glory have recently played the Roxian), we’ve been unable to bring in a restaurant to capitalize on the large crowds who come in to see the bands.
It’s tragic that all we seem to reach for are government grants (the borough pays a grant writer to search for them) for government work that dashes private development.
We brought in the ACHA headquarters on such a grant, and they’re making promises about how wonderful the new public housing will be. The same promises, now broken, that have Meyers Ridge relegated to a low-income, county-run, dumpster/ vermin littered nicer looking version of the same old thing it was when they laid out these promises with that redevelopment of the McKees Rocks Terrace in 2003.
This isn’t saying we want no public housing. We have by far more than any other community by acreage or any other measure. Not re-upping for this bit won’t change that – the Sto-Rox School District’s small area will still have Uansa Village, Meyer’s Ridge, Pleasant Ridge, and the Ohio View Acres Tower, in addition to the Senior High Rise on Chartiers brought in by Focus On Renewal decades ago.
Every problem from a failing school district and massive amounts of blight to violence throughout the community and rampant lawbreaking are tied to a lack of funds in some way. The new plan to try to save the school calls for five straight years of property tax hikes.
Robinson Township, five times the size of Stowe and McKees Rocks combined, doesn’t have these issues funding their school nor their town’s upkeep – and they only have one ACHA housing plan, Groveton, which is close to the Ohio River and very near to Coraopolis.
In Sto-Rox, the lack of retail growth hangs around the community’s neck like an albatross, truncating property values, limiting spillover foot traffic for businesses, and refusing the police force, municipal crews and social services the funding needed to do well. All of these merely preside over the further spiraling of the towns toward a sad and unnecessary future of total dilapidation.
The failure to reclaim that specific space to connect ready-to-built land and enable a collection of good shops and comfortable restaurants – as well as, possibly, municipal boat ramps and docking, green park space along Chartiers Creek, and a cultural district anchored by the beautiful Roxian Theater would be a dereliction of duty by our elected officials.
It would be in exchange for a revenue-choking renewal of our fifth public housing space, the one which, in particular, chokes off any developers’ (outside of those merely profiting from government largess) capacity to imagine the land from the riverbank at the town’s edge all the way to Pittock as anything with great possibility. Free up that land and the proximity to the river and the big city will have developers salivating.
Imagine shoppers from Sheraden, West End, Windgap, Ingram and the other side of the river buying their printer ink at a Big Box in McKees Rocks instead of driving to McKnight Road or Robinson. You can populate the image with a craft store, a hardware outlet, and a myriad of other places shortening people’s commute to purchase basic home needs… and so can a developer with vision.
We’ve carried far more than our share of Allegheny County’s low-income public housing for a very, very long time. All around us are communities with none whatsoever. We’ll keep four of five… but it’s time for the county to get their knee off the neck of our economic growth before we have no school and no hope. Enough is enough.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church.