Groundbreaking for A Better Address Housing Project

by | Sep 29, 2023 | News

As published in the September 29, 2023 edition of The Altoona Mirror (article link)

A 12-unit apartment building planned for a vacant lot near the Altoona Area School District’s main campus represents a type of housing for which Altoona has an urgent need, according to the head of the county’s economic development agency.

New professionals coming here struggle to find the kind of high-quality, safe, market rate living quarters that retired architect Judy Coutts is building on the 500 block of 18th Street, said Steve McKnight, president/CEO of the Altoona Blair County Development Corp.

“We need more projects like this,” McKnight said Thursday.

The project is a public-private partnership.

The total cost is $1.5 million, which Coutts will manage with the help of a low-interest $500,000 loan from the city through ABCD and with up to $375,000 in tax credits authorized by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, Coutts said.

That help will effectively turn an $800,000 mortgage into a $600,000 mortgage, making the project financially feasible, despite interest rates that have risen from the 3.75% that prevailed a few years ago to the current 9.25% for an institutional loan, Coutts said.

Also making the project feasible was a land development waiver granted by the city Planning Commission on a requirement for 21 off-street parking spaces. Coutts only needs to provide two accessible spaces off-street.

The commission granted the waiver for several reasons: The 10-unit row house segment that used to occupy the half-block had no off-street parking; there are eight nearby on-street spaces that don’t front along other structures; there are various amenities within walking distance; tenants can take the bus, Uber and bikes; and there has only been a modest parking demand by tenants of another housing project that Coutts completed several years ago.

Supplementing those arguments is the satellite view of Altoona that shows all the parking lots that have been created following housing demolitions, Coutts said.

The “creative” policy flexibility demonstrated by the Planning Commission is key for projects like Coutts,’ McKnight said.

Another key is “patient capital” — loans that don’t need to be paid back until projects begin generating the money to make those paybacks, McKnight said.

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

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