Groundbreaking has taken place for $14 million worth of new construction on a complex in Heidelberg that will give individuals with autism the chance to live independently.
The two nonprofit developers, ACTION-Housing Inc. and Autism Housing Development Corp., had the event last week in a vacant lot on the 1800 block of Washington Street across from where the complex will be built.
Construction is slated to be complete in June of 2016.
“It's exciting for us at ACTION-Housing to partner with the Autism Housing Development Corp. of Pittsburgh for this innovative housing for people with autism spectrum disorders,” said Larry Swanson, ACTION-Housing's executive director.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline) said independent living and integration into the community would make the “lives of individuals in the autism spectrum happier and more fulfilling.”
“This is a first-of-its-kind project in the nation that will integrate young adults on the autism spectrum with the community in which they live,” said Elliott Frank, president of Autism Housing Development Corp.
Individuals on the autism spectrum will be provided with support services as part of the housing, Frank said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the housing project was easy to support.
“These projects are competitive for very scarce state and federal dollars. ... Our community has been a great tradition and a great legacy of helping folks with disabilities,” he said.
Jane Miller, Pittsburgh field director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said department officials are happy to be involved in the project.
“We're privileged and honored to be a part,” she said.
HUD has been partnering with ACTION-Housing for many years, Miller said.
“This is like ‘Back to the Future' for Heidelberg,” said Allegheny County Councilman Michael Finnerty, referring to the days of the rich soccer history in the borough and the coming days of potentially becoming a trend-setting example for affordable housing.
Mayor Kenneth LaSota said, “We must work together to create a new economic and social center for Heidelberg. He added that all who live within the complex will be “gainfully employed” and “able to share ideals and experiences” with their fellow Heidelberg residents.
There are growing number of individuals identified as having autism who seek independent housing, officials said.
“We're tearing down the shameful walls of exclusion ... we're putting up walls that promote independence and full community inclusion of people with disabilities,” said Shani Lasin, program officer at FISA Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps women, children and those with disabilities.
The 42-unit development will be the tallest structure in Heidelberg and will be named Dave Wright Apartments after the owner of Wright's Seafood Restaurant.
The restaurant was a landmark in Heidelberg for 106 years before closing in 2007.
Originally, the complex was going to be erected in the same spot where the restaurant was, but the location was deemed to be in the 100-year flood plain, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Officials then decided to build across the street and that the area that once was the restaurant site would serve as a parking lot and green space.
The development is funded through housing tax credits, which were allocated by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and PNC Bank, serving as the tax-credit investor. Allegheny County, through its Department of Economic Development, provided $1.5 million in funding to the project.