Work on homeless shelter to begin

Family Services Inc. risks losing access to $750K grant if project doesn’t start soon

Family Services Inc. hopes to begin construction within days on its $3.2 million, 37-bed shelter for homeless people, plus six income-limited apartments.

The nonprofit received land-development approval Wednesday from the Altoona Planning Commission.

The commission called a special meeting to consider the land development request for the renovation project, because unless Family Services begins construction soon, it risks losing access to a $750,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank, according to Lisa Hann, Family Services executive director.

The bank has already granted an extension on a deadline for spending the money, and now expects the agency to have used up a “significant portion” by mid-September, Hann said.

If the site is still idle then, a second extension request might be futile, she said.

Conversely, if a second request is necessary, it would be granted if the project is underway, she said.

The shelter is needed here, as shown by Family Services having had to turn away 1,667 people from its existing shelter in the fiscal year ending June 30, Hann said.

There were 342 individuals served during that time, she said.

Homelessness is necessarily obvious.

In Blair County, it often takes the form of couch surfing; staying with friends, neighbors and people recently met or squatting in abandoned houses, warehouses and storefronts; or camping in woods on the outskirts of town, close enough for forays into town for necessities, Hann said.

Last month, 245 homeless people registered with another local agency, seeking a place to live, Hann said.

The new shelter will have a few single rooms, many double rooms and two family rooms.

The single rooms may be especially useful for clients with post-traumatic stress syndrome, who might not do well with a roommate, according to Hann.

The double rooms section would function like a hostel.

Family rooms will enable the agency to avoid having to turn away potential clients due to the needs of couples with children, she said.

The structure, purchased from the Drenning family, is actually three attached buildings in a line.

Family Services will be taking over the two buildings nearest the corner of 23rd Street and North Branch Avenue.

Those two have interior connections. The third building will be retained by Durbin Construction, which initially bought the entire block.

That block now includes the new headquarters of Blair County Community Action, whose co-location with the shelter will help Community Action serve shelter residents, indicated Brian Durbin, a volunteer member of the Blair County Shelter Task Force, who spoke to the commission Wednesday.

The single and double rooms of the shelter will be in the building closest to the corner, while the family rooms, a community room, two kitchens, a laundry and a conference room will be in the first attached building, Hann said.

The second floor of the first building will house the six apartments.

Family Services hopes to obtain Section 8 housing subsidy vouchers for those apartments from the Altoona Housing Authority.

Family Services would become the landlord, while the authority would administer the vouchers, which provide subsidy payments adjusted to tenant incomes.

Family Services will be awarding contracts for general construction, HVAC, electrical work and plumbing, according to Hann.

She didn’t name the chosen contractors yet due to requirements of one of the funding agencies.

Family Services still needs to obtain a building permit from the city, but that shouldn’t be a problem, Hann said.

Workers will build seven new parking slots.

The property will share nine existing slots with Community Action.

Hann hopes to complete the shelter project by March, although high prices and difficulties obtaining wood and steel — especially steel — is a concern, she said.

In addition to the $750,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank, the project is being funded with $201,000 from the Blair County Affordable Housing Trust Fund; $130,000 from Blair Health Choices, a Medicaid contractor; $754,000 from city Community Development Block Grant funds; $204,000 from county CDBG funds; $106,000 from county Emergency Shelter Grant funds; $5,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank; $86,000 from Family Services’ capital campaign; $75,000 from the county’s share of Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund money; $200,000 from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and $50,000 from Reliance Bank, according to information supplied by Hann.

Family Services still needs to raise $374,000 for the shelter project.

Hann’s hopeful that tax credits from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and American Rescue Plan money from the city and the county can cover the shortfall, she said.

All the funding is in the form of grants.

“The goal is to build and not to have a mortgage at the end,” Hann said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.


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