File photo by Brian Hagberg.

Officials Split on Wisdom of Moving Forward with Low Income Senior Housing Development in Downtown

February 19, 2023

WARREN, Pa. – A low-income senior housing development is set to be built on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Liberty St. in downtown Warren, but some officials are questioning whether that is the best use of the location.

The project, named Eagles Crest, will occupy 237 – 239 Penna. Ave W as well as the vacant lot and will feature a 40-room senior living center with 35 one-bedroom units. Hudson Group, the developer of the project, constructed a similar facility in Clarion which Warren City Councilmen John Wortman and Maurice Cashman visited.

“I came away very impressed,” said Cashman when council initially approved a letter of support for the project in May 2022.

The Warren project has been in the works for more than five years. But the future landscape of the area has changed drastically in that time, and City Councilwoman Wendy McCain is questioning whether the facility is the best use of that property.

“Yes, these buildings have been vacant for a long time, however, the city gave them away at a very different time in our history,” McCain told Your Daily Local in an email. “A time that didn’t seem to have much hope and we were grasping at anything to help. Things are different now, with organic growth of small businesses downtown and the riverfront initiative. Does this initiative provide economic development and fit with the city’s current initiatives? The answer is no.”

With plans progressing with the riverfront development project, McCain said the senior housing project now would only further divide the riverfront from downtown.

“These buildings (237 – 239 Penna. Ave W) have been home to furniture dealers, real estate brokers, and outdoor clothing,” McCain said. “These buildings will be torn down by a developer to raise a four story low-income senior housing complex, a big footprint separating the riverfront from our historic downtown.”

Upon council’s support of the project last summer, Wortman felt like it was a major win for the city.

“This, in my opinion, is an opportunity to bring benefit to our city,” Wortman said. “This project has been endorsed numerous times by council in the past. This would allow members of our community to remain members for a longer period of time. It would also add character and create a better experience for all of us who live here.”

The project was initially approved under the auspices of providing economic development for the city. Between the targeted clientele (seniors 62 and older who make less than 60% of the area’s median income), lack of job creation, and tax breaks (between LERTA and PILOT the development won’t hit the tax rolls for 15 years), McCain said it’s hard to see the positive economic impact.

“The objective, according to Eagles Crest (Hudson) is to entice seniors to move to the city by offering rents affordable to households at or below 60% area medium income,” McCain said. “This income level is not that of the spending needed to grow our local businesses. If the city of Warren is truly interested in economic development, let’s see what has worked elsewhere.”

Warren County Commissioner Jeff Eggleston supports the senior housing project but feels more community engagement is needed before it proceeds.

“The senior center, there has been almost no conversations with Experience Inc. or the aging community,” Eggleston said.

He does, however, feel that it is an important part of the city’s riverfront development, a key piece to what he feels should be a multi-layer puzzle.

“I get the idea of wanting to focus on young people,” Eggleston said. “You know, you have a brewery already. What else can you do to incorporate senior services into that space? And if you do that, there is a whole other round of funding that becomes available. The only way you are going to get a $10-12 million dollar project done down there is by having a patchwork quilt of projects, from my perspective.”

Given its proximity to other low-income senior housing developments, McCain questioned whether another project was really serving the needs of seniors in the area.

“Our historic downtown already has a condensed area of low-income senior housing,” McCain said. “Located less than a block away are two low-income senior housing apartments with openings: Allegheny Point Apartments (24 units) and Canterbury Courts (50 units). Let’s locate this housing where there is a need.”

McCain suggested the city should work collaboratively with Hudson to find a location for the Eagles Crest project that better serves the needs of low-income seniors, and also allows the city to focus the heart of downtown on more business-centered economic development.

“Let’s work smart and become problem solvers,” McCain said. “I urge the city to work with Hudson on identifying a more appropriate location for low-income senior housing. Let’s preserve our history and charm. Let’s bridge the gap between downtown and the riverfront. This will result in economic development.”

*Andy Close contributed to this report

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