The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 14, 2014

1 year later, CHOICE declared success

By Meagen Finnerty
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — Hortense Woods was farther away from her family than she liked and was living like a loner.

Woods, 80, was born and raised in Farrell, and she wanted to move back to the city.

Seeing the construction last year of new apartments on Roemer Boulevard on her weekly trip to church in Farrell from her apartment in Wheatland, piqued her interest.

“I was passing (construction) back and forth on Sunday,” she said.

July 1 will mark the first anniversary for CHOICE Homes, a project Mayor Olive McKeithan spent years pushing for.

CHOICE Homes came to Farrell with the purpose of drawing people into the distressed community with new housing options.

With 10 single-family homes and a 34-unit apartment building, the project is succeeding. All the units are occupied, said Phil Smith, president of Youngstown-based CHOICE Inc.

Woods moved in last August and said the apartments provide the social interaction she was looking for. From luncheons in the recreation room to just watching television, the tenants have gotten to know each other.

“I’m around other people,” she said.

The other major convenience of her two-bedroom apartment is its location next to businesses and the post office.

“It breathes life into neighborhoods,” City Manager Michael Ceci said. “It allowed us to really clean up a couple of different streets.”

The city has been tearing down houses along Fruit and Wallis avenues for years, Ceci said.

The newfound space, which once fit 30 houses, is where the 10 single-family houses are.

“We’ve seen some people moving back to Farrell,” Smith said.

About 15 to 20 percent of renters fall into this category, he said.

More than that, the units have brought in people from other areas.

“We have a number of people who didn’t live in Farrell and moved in,” Smith said.

The new development has a rippling effect throughout the community. Because of the cleanup that came with putting up the houses and apartments, other Farrell residents may feel inclined to invest in their own homes, Ceci said.

“It’s been a nice way to help stabilize the property values and tax base and keep people from fleeing Farrell because of the blight,” he said.

After 15 years, the homes will be put up for sale, giving the renters a discounted option to buy.

“Maybe it’s a mom and two kids. The mom works but there’s no other income. This gives her a chance to be able to afford that house where in other cases she might not be eligible,” Ceci said.

A second phase of the project may be in the works.

“We’re trying to get through some of the rough edges,” Smith said.

Once developers have a chance to work out any kinks, a second round of housing could be built. The earliest phase two would come to Farrell would be in a year and a half.