The following article was written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Linda Wilson Fuoco on December 16, 2016.
Elise Mote’s heartfelt speech of gratitude was the highlight of a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday in Heidelberg.
“You built this beautiful building that will give people like me, on the autism spectrum, the chance to live and make friends,” said Ms. Mote, a 23-year-old child care worker who will move into the new Dave Wright Apartments over the holidays.
“My last apartment was the size of a shoe box because that was all I could afford,” she said of a place in Squirrel Hill. “So I thank you so much!”
Her mother, Beverly Mote, described the new apartments as “life-changing.”
That’s because the 42-unit apartment building is one of the first in the country to offer affordable housing for both adults on the autism spectrum and for those who are not on the spectrum.
“This is not just about the 42 people living here,” said Karen Markle, executive vice president at NHS Human Services, a provider of education and other services for people with special needs. “This also gives hope to an entire community that struggles and wonders what is next.”
Parents of children with special needs “talk about what do we do when they are not 12 years old any more,” Beverly Mote explained in an interview. “There is a burden and the fear you have for the future of your child.”
Half of the units in the Dave Wright Apartments — built on Washington Street on the site of Wright’s Seafood Inn, a popular restaurant for 106 years until it was damaged in a flood in 2007 — will be rented by adults on the autism spectrum.
The other 21 apartments will be occupied by low- and moderate-income people who are not on the autism spectrum. The mix of tenants coupled with financing that makes the rent affordable for those who work for minimum wage make the project a rarity in the country, according to those attending the ribbon cutting. Six units meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The first floor has a community room for movie nights and other events, a quiet lounge, an exercise room and offices for NHS, which will have employees working there 25 to 40 hours per week to help tenants.
All of the apartments have been rented, and tenants will move in soon.
Monthly rents are $565 to $795, and the maximum yearly income for an individual is $29,000.
The rents are affordable, largely because of $11 million in federal tax credits awarded by The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority. The tax credits were then purchased by PNC Bank.
The $13.4 million apartment project is a joint venture by ACTION-Housing Inc. and the Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh.
The apartments are a longtime dream of Elliot Frank, an advocate for services for people with autism and president of the Autism Housing Development Corporation of Pittsburgh. Planning started five years ago and ground was broken in June 2015.
“For folks on the autism spectrum, we need your ability,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at the ribbon-cutting. “We need places like this that will allow people to have a good, productive life.”
Heidelberg Mayor Kenneth LaSota welcomed the 42 new families who will join the borough’s 1,200 residents. The completion of the five-story building marks the first time Heidelberg has ever had a building taller than three stories, he noted.
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D- Forest Hills, and state Sen. Wayne D. Fontana, D-Brookline, plus representatives from social service agencies, bankers and financiers.
The project’s architect is David Noss of RSH Architects, and the contractor is Repal Construction.