Bethlehem Haven, a nonprofit shelter for women, is seeking to expand its footprint with the construction of a new building and a major renovation of another building in Uptown.
As the organization celebrates 41 years of operating a year-round shelter for women in need of housing, its chief executive officer describes their building on 1410 Fifth Ave. that 26 women call home as “a tired building.” Annette Fetchko, Bethlehem Haven’s CEO, presented plans to renovate the building to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday. Fetchko also proposed demolishing nearby buildings to make room for the construction of a building with 34 apartment units.
Fetchko said the purpose of the “major renovation” is to “provide a therapeutic environment and long-term residential living.”
Some of the 26 women have lived in the building for more than a decade, Fetchko said, though they are currently being housed in temporary shelters in Shadyside due to a furnace breaking in the winter. Bethlehem Haven is a subsidiary of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.
The renovations include, among other things, roofing work, a new HVAC system and electrical windows.
The second application the shelter presented to the commission is for the creation of a 34,000-square-foot, four-story building with a private courtyard. Titled Uptown Flats, the building is slated to have 34 units at efficiency size or with one to two bedrooms. Fetchko said the building would also have office space for the organization’s staff.
The creation of the new building, she continued, would complete “the dream for the last part of the continuum of services with these affordable apartments.”
The construction of the new building requires the demolition of several buildings on site, including the destruction of a “nuisance bar.”
The other buildings were described by Gerard Schmidt of LGA Partners, an architectural firm working on the project, as “dilapidated and with no historic value.”
The shelter is working with ACTION-Housing on both projects to provide services to the future residents.
Fetchko said there would be no limits to how long people can reside there but she hoped that with wraparound services residents would eventually move on to “safe housing of their choice.”
While the cost of the projects wasn’t covered, Fetchko said Bethlehem Haven received funding through the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits [LIHTC] program, which provides credits to housing developers in exchange for keeping rents affordable for 15 to 30 years.
Additionally, the organization received a Rental Gap Program loan agreement for up to $500,000 with the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA]. The loan was approved by URA at a February board of director’s meeting. According to information presented at that meeting, the two projects have more than $3.8 million in funding from various sources, including the two listed above.
The shelter’s representatives also noted during the February meeting that construction is expected to take place later this year and last through 2025. But before construction can occur, the shelter needs approval from the City Planning Commission. Tuesday’s planning meeting was a briefing, meaning no action was taken on the two projects and the subject will be brought up at the next planning meeting for a possible vote.
While the public didn’t get a chance to comment at this meeting, the commissioners were able to ask questions about the project.
After Fetchko noted that the plans for the new building call for an outdoor courtyard, Commissioner Becky Mingo recalled reading “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, which made her think about “what makes people thrive.” Mingo suggested to the shelter that they continue to consider this as they move forward with their plans and emphasized the need for outdoor space.
Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.
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