Updated: May 31
By J. Hogan
When I was approached about Allegheny County Housing Authority proposing a broad new, nice, mixed-income, mixed-retail/residential plan to rejuvenate the dilapidated area around what should be a thriving retail area at the Carson Street ingress to McKees Rocks, I listened.
I heard the shimmery vision of progress, coupled with the threat that if we didn’t go along with the plan, infrastructure improvements here would no longer occur.
I heard the hogwash that an infusion of more “help” from the Housing Authority was the only hope for things to improve.
I heard the pejorative use of the word gentrification suggesting that any improvements that didn’t result in our town carrying way more of ACHA’s load than any other would somehow be immoral.
I even had the arrow of racism slung my way, because, well… when all other hollow arguments fail, that one is always handy.
Then I warned folks. I took on six figures of debt to buy our home on Etna Street, in the then newly christened Meyers Ridge, which had for decades been the McKees Rocks Terrace. Undergirding our decision to purchase our new home here were a lot of lovely promises.
The community would always be mixed-income, which would make it stable and peaceful.
Always privately managed, it would be a for-profit venture for the company running it and they’d have a vested interest in keeping it nice and keeping it occupied by folks paying full freight.
It would always have individual trash pickup and not vermin-inviting dumpsters.
The community would be safe, with diligent management removing any folks causing trouble, paying for security when needed to ensure that it didn’t suffer the violence so rampant in ACHA housing across the region.
All of those promises have been abandoned, many of my neighbors have been slain over the years, my house has bullet holes, and the Housing Authority took over running the place, bringing with them dumpsters that not only attract raccoons and rats but are also loudly slammed around at 3 a.m. on Monday and Thursday mornings by the trucks sent to empty them.
I don’t believe the ACHA from costly experience. Costly yet, as the Hogans don’t get to walk away from their mortgage like the county walks away from its commitments.
Now many of the others who were buying the bill of goods being sold are seeing the con game, too. The Housing Authority didn’t bring in a developer to develop the broad commercial promises - but they certainly lined up a hardly reputable developer to make sure we get the “affordable housing” to replace Hays Manor.
Oh, you thought we were gonna do that stuff? No, no… you folks have to figure all the rest of it out. We’ll handle the saddling-the-town-with-more-low-income-housing part of it.
Look, it makes sense from the ACHA’s point of view. The authority has spent nearly 80 years dumping as much of the burden of its affordable housing on Stowe Township and McKees Rocks as they can – much more than anywhere else in the state. With Section 8, it's more than nearly any comparable place in the nation.
No other town wants to have the problems that come with this much-compounded poverty, and – well, hey, we’ve just about destroyed this place anyway, so putting more in there will be easier than asking some other township, borough, or city to bear a share of the burden.
It’s time for the homeowners of Stowe and McKees Rocks to find an enterprising lawyer interested in a large class action lawsuit. That lawyer would have to compare the increase in property values in towns throughout Allegheny County over the past three-quarters of a century and sue on behalf of everyone who has owned property in both towns on the basis that burdensome decisions from the Housing Authority have artificially kept the value of said properties from increasing in value commiserate to the rest of the county.
This isn’t an arbitrary measurement. Those values are what local school taxes are based upon, and all one needs to do is visit next door Montour School District’s facilities to see the difference in amenities and available resources for the kids.
It’s not time for the towns to roll over and take more abuse from the ACHA, and that goes for everyone from the commissioners and councilmembers down to the fixed-income retiree who wishes to not have to fight at all.
The Housing Authority has a long track record of making pretty promises that it simply walks away from and leaves the area holding the bag. It’s time for the area to walk away from the ACHA, refuse to fall for empty promises, and fight for the residents of this place to have a future.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.
UPDATE: This article was updated to reflect a difference between the entities of Allegheny County and the Allegheny County Housing Authority.