The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

January 3, 2013

Malleable Heights plan taking shape

Aims to improve residents’ security

SHARON — When Luvier Barber first moved into the Malleable Heights public housing community in 1993, “It was kind of rough,” he said.

Mercer County Housing Authority smoothed some of those rough edges by increasing police presence, demolishing problem structures, limiting vehicular access, hiring a site manager and building a new community building, the Quinby Street Service Center.

“It’s better now,” said Barber, who moved back and forth from Malleable Heights, Sharon, and Garster Homes in Farrell until 2005, when he entered the apartment he now lives in on Quinby Street.

Barber, 70, said he enjoys living in the community - “It’s all right with me, as long as people don’t bother me,” he said - but would like to see a few things done to improve it.

Some of the items Barber mentioned - security cameras, new doors - are in the works, and a master plan Mercer County Housing Authority commissioned lists many others.

When a housing authority commissions a master plan for a community, it usually is looking at a large-scale modernization or revitalization, said Mercer County Housing Authority Executive Director Nannette Livadas.

No such plans are in the works for Malleable Heights, although Livadas said the authority will look to undertake parts of the plan as money becomes available.

The plan, written by Pittsburgh architecture firm Loysen + Krustmeier, Pittsburgh, was commissioned because the authority was awarded a security grant, Livadas said.

While the plan goes beyond security issues, the recommendations separate security and non-security issues, she said.

“I’m really happy with the master plan, although we can’t afford to do everything,” she said, adding that she had not added the cost estimates together to get an overall figure.

The authority is preparing specifications to buy new doors - front, back and storm - for all of the units. The main doors will be made of a heavier steel than those currently on the units.

Barber said the apartments are due new doors, showing where his had been repaired after having been forced open sometime before he moved in.

The door project will complete the security grant, which also is funding the installation of security cameras - which are yet to be put in - and hiring of security guards.

Barber said the cameras are long overdue and should help stem what he considers the biggest crime problem at Malleable Heights: theft.

“Last night, someone came in and stole my barbecue pit,” said the retired welder, truck driver and construction worker.

The barbecue grill was sitting in his back yard, in a fenced-in area. The week before Christmas, someone stole his lawnmower motor, he said.

Replacing the wooden fences with chain-link ones would help cut down on the theft problem because residents could see into their neighbors’ back yards, said Barber, an Army veteran.

Other residents made the same argument to Loysen + Krustmeier, Livadas said, but there are no immediate plans for such a project.

Barber said he has not seen the guards with State Security and Investigative Services, who patrol at regular weekend hours and random weekday hours, but authority officials said the guards have been welcomed by residents.

“It’s made a big difference down there,” Livadas said, noting the guards coordinate activities with Sharon police.

Holly Campbell, director of housing management, said officials get daily reports on the activities of the guards, who are uniformed and can carry firearms and electronic shocking devices.

“There have not had any site issues,” Campbell said. “The people are really respectful of them.”

The guards also could alleviate concerns of residents that out-of-towners gather in the community at night.

Other projects mentioned in the master plan include replacing windows, building front porches and renovating the exteriors of the buildings.

Barber said he would like if the exteriors could be spruced up the way the authority did with Garster Homes and the Mesabi Street apartments in Sharon, where front porches were added and siding was installed on the upper floors.

Malleable Heights is due for modernization work after the authority finishes work at McDowell Manor, Sharon, but the scope of the project has not been determined.

The authority receives about $600,000 a year from the federal government for modernization projects, Livadas said. That figure is half of what the authority used to get.

Barber said some things he would like to see done at Malleable Heights would cost little or nothing - cracking down on littering, enforcing requirements as to when garbage toters are to be put at the curb and returned to apartments, and installing speed bumps to slow traffic.

“It’s just a few things they need doing,” he said.

The authority recently used funds from the Shenango Valley Foundation to hire Roland Barksdale-Hall on a part-time basis to hold adult education classes, computer training sessions and workshops on writing resumes.

Despite the authority’s financial limitations, Malleable Heights is a desirable community, Livadas said.

“It think it’s a great community,” she said. “It has a great community center. It has active residents. We don’t have problems filling the units.”

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