Not that many years ago, the Northview Heights public housing community was one of the deadliest places in Pittsburgh, and at the time, the Housing Authority of The City of Pittsburgh had its own police department.
When reporting on the cancelation of a vigil for 32-year-old Michael Wilson, who was fatally shot there March 3, the New Pittsburgh Courier learned it was the first homicide there in three years.
“That’s correct,” said HACP Executive Director Castor Binion. “And it’s not just Northview. Homicides are down in all our traditional housing communities. Safety of our residents is a primary concern.”
In 2008, there were 13 killings in HACP communities. That numbers was cut to eight in 2009 and 2010, to six in 2011, and to two in 2012. Last year, there was one killing, and Wilson’s is the only one this year.
Binion, who was officially named executive director in February, after stepping in as interim director after Fulton Meachem left Pittsburgh for another position last September, said his background as an operations manager allows him to bring a different perspective to the position.
“I’ve been in this business a long time, and moving into a leadership role allows me to focus on our mission and operations,” he said. “It allows me to bring in efficiencies and technology and make sure they work for the benefit of our residents and staff.”
Binion calls himself a technology geek, and is fond of saying the authority employs it just as a modern private company would, for monitoring comings and goings with more than 800 hi-tech cameras top using hand-held devices to confirm repair orders or deliveries have been completed.
“Last month we completed our first all-digital Section 8 waiting list opening,” he said. “We had people signing up from Facebook, email, using their phones and even tablets. We got 13,000 applications.”
Binion said the safety issue is just one popular misconception about the authority. Another involves the tenants themselves. Most people, he said, think “public housing” is for poorest residents and that the working poor, with higher incomes qualify for federal Section 8 vouchers.
“A family of four with an income of $52,500 is eligible for our public housing,” he said. “The limit for Section 8 is only $32,800. So we are critical in providing affordable housing to city residents.”
The HACP’s 5,000 residents are comprised of roughly 33 percent seniors, 33 percent working families and 33 percent disabled residents and welfare recipients. Residents are housed in a combination of traditional communities, senior buildings, and the newer mixed-income developments such as Oak Hill, Garfield and the soon to reopen Addison Terrace.
Binion said the authority plans to add more than 900 units of housing over the next decade, that includes the 400 Addison units, another 85 in Homewood North, and the big one—between 300 and 700 units in Larimer. That last project hinges on winning a $30-million federal grant, which would leverage another $60 million in cash investment, plus more than $200 million in services and support funding.
“We’re hoping to hear about that this month,” he said. “We have our fingers crossed.”
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