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West End housing project proposed

May 10, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown's Westview Homes, a public housing project in the West End, would be demolished and replaced by an expanded public housing development under a $36 million proposal developed by the Hagerstown Housing Authority.

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The new development would provide housing for 1,000 people in 330 housing units and would include regular rentals, homes for sale and publicly subsidized apartments.

Its boundaries would extend to Mount Valla Avenue onto Elgin Park, and onto vacant land near railroad tracks to the south.

Westview Homes is bounded by Ross and Lanvale streets and Buena Vista and Main avenues.

Whether the plan becomes a reality depends on federal funding, said Ted Shankle, executive director of the Hagerstown Housing Authority, which oversees the city's public housing.

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The authority is expected to apply next week for a $9.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through its HOPE VI program.

Shankle said the agency should learn in September whether the federal grant application was approved. The Philadelphia-based development company Pennrose Properties Inc. worked with the housing authority on the grant application.

"All this is contingent on the federal (government) giving the HOPE VI grant. Without it the whole thing dissipates," said Shankle.

"Traditionally only about one out of six (HOPE VI) applications are awarded. This is by far not a done deal. ... But we're optimistic," Shankle said.

Shankle said state Housing and Community Development Department officials have committed to funding the project but only if federal funds are awarded. Shankle said the state will be asked for about $11.5 million.

The rest of the money for the project would come from tax credits, and in-kind and cash contributions from the city and Housing Authority, Shankle said.

The Hagerstown City Council agreed Tuesday to send a letter of support to HUD. The letter states the city's intention to commit $1.5 million to the project, and to donate Elgin Park. The city's contribution could be cash or in-kind services such as construction of new roads, extending utilities and waiving building and other permit fees.

Washington County has pledged to donate a vacant 9 acres along nearby railroad tracks, Shankle said.

The city and county support are also contingent on the federal funding.

Shankle said that if the federal funds are awarded, construction could begin in the summer of 2001, and the first new units ready for occupancy by summer 2002.

Westview Homes are some of Hagerstown's oldest public housing units. The barrack-style, two-story townhouses were built in 1950 and 1951, and opened in 1952.

Shankle has said the units are increasingly expensive to maintain. He said there are "no serious safety problems," but the apartments are small, have plumbing problems, plaster walls, and crumbling floors. About 700 people live in the 210 housing units at Westview Homes. The rent for those units is subsidized.

The new units would be in two-story duplexes, quads or single-family homes, which would be at least twice a large as the Westview Homes.

The 330 units include 60 that would be sold to private owners for $60,000-$70,000 each, 120 for rental at market rate, and 150 for subsidized renters.

The new development would have 60 fewer subsidized units, but Shankle said that shouldn't be a problem.

Shankle said the federal government "likes to use more Section 8," which is a rent subsidy program for approved tenants living in privately owned apartments.

He said if the new development were built, the Housing Authority would receive 60 additional Section 8 vouchers. The additional vouchers would offset the fewer number of Housing Authority-owned apartments with subsidized rents.

Building a mix of subsidized and market rate rentals and homes to be sold is intended to make the project self-supporting in terms of operating costs, Shankle said.

"It also fits into the seamless concept. Where you won't be able to tell where the public housing is. And the public housing residents don't feel pigeonholed somewhere and continue to go up the economic ladder," Shankle said.

The proposed development would have an expanded community center with a day care center, computer learning center and gym. A new basketball court would be built on a vacant lot at Elgin Boulevard and Lanvale Street, to replace the court at Elgin Park, which would be developed.

The development would be built in phases, starting on the vacant property that would be donated by the county. If the federal grant application were approved, Shankle said the authority would stop moving new residents into Westview Homes.

Shankle said he expects to have enough space in the new units to accommodate anyone left in the Westview Homes when demolition begins.

A name for the proposed development hasn't been chosen yet, but Shankle said New Hope Community seems to be the front-runner.

The proposal also includes plans to purchase 27 dilapidated houses in the area around Westview. Those properties would be renovated and either sold or used for additional public housing, Shankle said.

About $3 million of the project cost would fund four years of support services including subsidizing day care, self-sufficiency counselors and tutors, he said.

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