Pittsburgh—By combining 60 units of seniors housing over 7,000 square feet of commercial space on the site of a former public housing project, Fairmont Commons is providing both affordable housing as well as a catalyst for further revitalization of the emerging Penn Avenue Arts Corridor here.

Located at the intersection of two neighborhoods, one gentrifying into an artist hotbed and the other still poor and lacking investment, Fairmont Commons will house seniors over the age of 75 who need assistance with the tasks of daily living. Residents will have an on-site services coordinator, nursing care, meals, and activities. Services will be provided by Presbyterian SeniorCare.

The building includes a dining room, a café, an exercise/wellness room, a library with computers, lounges, an art room, and laundry facilities.

Construction began in June 2005 and is expected to be completed in August 2006. Fairmont is designed to replace the Garfield High Rise public housing project that was demolished in September 2005 after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declared it obsolete. Fairmont Apartments, Inc., a partnership between Boston-based Affirmative Investments and Presbyterian Senior are, is developing and will run the project.

After an 18-month planning process with the housing authority, neighbors, area seniors, and local nonprofit groups, the final development plan reflected a desire to bring stability to the area. The residents will get high-quality housing and services, and the rest of the neighborhood will benefit from new retail activity. The developer wanted “to do something … urban, something right on the streetline, right on the busline, right in the heart of activity,” said David Ennis, president of Affirmative Investments.

An important aim of the development was to avoid removing the seniors from their neighborhood. Ennis’ group also wanted to "retain a sense of place” for the seniors even as their neighborhood gentrified around them. One way it will do this is by directly connecting the Fairmont apartment building with a second phase of the project, which is due to begin construction in fall 2006. That phase will include artist live/work space and a new restaurant.

Fairmont Commons’ 60 one-bedroom units are about 560 square feet each in size. Forty-eight of the units are restricted to households earning at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), and 12 units are restricted to those at or below 40 percent of AMI. But the actual income targeting will be even deeper because 50 of the apartments are set aside as public housing, whose residents will have incomes closer to 30 percent of AMI, according to the developer.

The public housing residents will pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Those units will be subsidized for 40 years by an Annual Contributions Contract from HUD. The remaining 10 units will each rent for about $450 a month.

Financing for the $12.2 million development included $7.7 million in 9 percent low-income housing tax credit equity from the National Equity Funds Inc., $3.6 million in capital funds from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, and $75,000 in developer equity.

Fairmont is located on land purchased from the Friendship Development Association and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., which partnered with the developers on the retail portion. The 7,000 square feet of retail space was financed separately from the residential portion. For the retail portion, Affirmative Investments was talking to a potential buyer at press time who was considering using New Markets Tax Credits to finance its involvement.