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To provide affordable housing opportunities to the community through the purchase and renovation of existing properties and the construction of new facilities especially for senior citizens, those with physical or mental disabilities, and lower income families.
In early 1966, Charlie and Kathy Scalise heard about a problem developing in Erie, or rather, a problem with Erie's redevelopment. At the time, Charlie worked for the A&P as a meat cutter. Kathy worked at home raising their five children and was the choir director and organist at St. Andrew's Church. They both worked for the parish as volunteers of the Christian Family Movement, sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Erie. It was through CFM that Charlie and Kathy became aware of the serious side-effect resulting from local redevelopment efforts. Many of Erie's old homes and apartment houses were being razed to make way for new office buildings, and consequently, many low-income families were being displaced with few decent, affordable housing alternatives open to them. The Scalises met with several of the soon-to-be-homeless families at a neighborhood meeting, and then related their findings to other CFM members. Gilbert and Jane Kuehl, and John Poux, who were active at St. Peter Cathedral, joined the Scalises to meet the challenge. In November of 1966, a small, private nonprofit agency was founded called St. Martin de Porres VIP Housing. It was subsequently renamed Housing and Neighborhood Development Services -HANDS. Only deep-felt concern and determination fueled the group's first endeavors to locate and help finance housing for families in need. But they made progress. By July of 1967, several new volunteers were on board, and enough money had been raised to help six families with low-interest loans totaling $5,700. This first step by the young organization was small, but it prepared it for the next, which was significant. To provide more help to local families still needing housing assistance, the volunteers turned to the Federal Housing Administration office in Pittsburgh, hoping HANDS could participate in federal programs. Their prayers were answered. In 1968, HANDS became the first agency in NW Pennsylvania to participate in FHA home ownership and rent supplement programs. These programs enabled HANDS to purchase and renovate houses in Erie, then sell or rent them to low-income families. Shortly after the completion of their first renovation project, HANDS volunteers offered courses in household and consumer education as well as family finances to ensure the success of each new homeowning family. For five years, the group of friends worked as volunteers directing HANDS' housing programs, developing new housing sites, and speaking to church and civic groups to raise additional support. It wasn't until 1971, when the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs awarded HANDS an operational grant, that the organization became a full-time agency with a paid staff. At this time, Charlie Scalise became executive director of the agency, and Kathy Scalise the agency's bookkeeper. Once able to devote full time attention to helping people solve their housing problems, HANDS soon became an official FHA/HUD counseling agent for the Erie area - authorized to provide a wide range of housing and mortgage counseling services. HANDS achievement in the 1970s were crowned by the 1978 renovation of the former St. Joseph's Orphanage on 6th and Maryland, now the St. Joseph Apartments for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Funded by HUD, the St. Joseph Apartments project represented the largest housing rehabilitation project east of the Mississippi, competing for funds against 1,300 other non-profit agencies across the country. The project transformed the long unoccupied and deteriorating orphanage into a spruce 204-unit senior residence with a general store, library, all-faith chapel, health suite, beauty/barbershop, arts and crafts studio, meeting/reception rooms and on-site laundry facilities. In the 1980s, more major housing development and renovation projects followed. In 1988, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded HANDS $718,000 to purchase and renovate a 30-unit apartment building at 516 East 6th for the homeless and disabled persons. HANDS was then awarded $280,000 in matching funds from HUD, the PA Department of Public Welfare and the PA Department of Community Affairs to develop the Sharp Apartments at 727 French Street for physically and mentally disabled persons who might otherwise be homeless. HANDS West Apartments, similar in scope and funding to the Sharp Apartments, opened at 320 West 8th Street in August of 1989. And HANDS Center City at 245 East 18th Street, opened in 1990 to provide disabled person the opportunity to live independently. In the 1990's, celebrating its 25th anniversary, HANDS continued to solely plan and develop projects including HANDS Triad, Metro and Niagara Apartments in Erie for persons experiencing mental illness, and the Brookside Apartments in Meadville for senior citizens. HANDS solely owns and manages 460 residential units in all. At the same time, HANDS expanded its development efforts by becoming partners with many other non-profits in the region, identifying and securing funding for their housing projects. A few of these developments included the Alex W. Thompson Apartments for Erie's Martin Luther King Center; Capabilities of Crawford County, Liberty Hill Apartments and Terrace Overview Apartments for UCIP; Gargano Towers Apartments for Mercer County Community Action Agency; and Maryvale and Villa Maria Apartments for the Sisters of St. Joseph of NW PA and Pennrose Properties. HANDS manages the leasing and everyday operations of these sites as well. HANDS also provides HUD related management/consulting services to Erie's Irma Seligman Apartments owned by Stairways, Inc. and Butler Limited Housing in Butler, PA. Since starting in 1966, HANDS has helped thousands of Erie area residents facing homelessness, disabilities, poverty and old age. Throughout its 30+ year history- from a small group of people helping their neighbors to one of the NW Pennsylvania's leading human service agencies- HANDS has been a partner with each community it has served. HANDS programs strive to help people by helping them with their housing needs; by enhancing properties through restoration; and by improving neighborhoods, which in turn increases property values. Plus, HANDS' renovation and construction projects consistently employ local architects, construction teams, and interior furnishers.
- R. Scott Domowicz
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