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--- Issued December 15, 2011

Construction contracts for more than $10 million awarded last summer made a lot of people happy over the holidays, including Elizabeth Williams, Harbor Homes, a 15-year resident of public housing who is on disability. Construction work has started at six different housing sites and will provide Erie area residents with work through Christmas.

The story of the Authority's effort to put people to work is featured on the website of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (See website story.)

'I’m blessed,” Williams said. “They’re fixing up everything – new water lines so I have more water pressure; new siding and new paint. I’m ecstatic. I feel better about where I live and about myself.”

“That’s what I like about the Housing Authority,” said Williams. “They do all they can to keep their residents happy while we get back on our feet. And they treat us all with courtesy and respect.”

Wajdi Ahmad, a resident of Harbor Homes, came to this country in 2003 from Eritrea, East Africa, to seek a better life and a good job. He ended up washing dishes at an Erie high school until he was laid off. After that, he could find no work for a year. But now, he is working for DC Installations, installing replacement windows at Erie Heights. “This work is a blessing,” he said. Ahmad now has every opportunity to keep working on this and future projects if he does his job, shows up on time, and enters an apprenticeship program.

If it were not for the Authority’s 2011 capital improvements project, Ahmad, as well as more than 100 other formerly unemployed Erie area residents such as Tony Milone and Dave Bean would likely still be unemployed, facing a bleak Christmas.

Bean had been out of work for seven months and Milone for nine months. “Up until now, this was the longest I’ve gone without work,” said Bean. He has worked for E.E. Austin for about 12 years. “Blame it on the economy.”

Tony Milone said he “couldn’t be more grateful” for the work. “I bought a house two years ago and then work almost came to a halt. I had a hard time paying the mortgage and had to pick up a roommate to help pay the utilities. Thank goodness I have no wife or kids or I really would have been in trouble.”

All the workers praised the Authority for having shovel-ready projects set to go when the money to pay for them became available – “Just like the Authority was ready in 2009 when the stimulus money came along,” Bean said.

Improvements underway or planned include the following:

* Project “G” $5.3 million includes installation of new underground gas lines at the John E. Horan Garden Apartments; new energy efficient furnaces and electrical service panels at 325 single family houses; and, new interior water lines and exterior siding replacement at 224 apartments in Harbor Homes at 18th and Downing.

* Erie Heights modernization (W. 38th and Garden Avenue) $3.2 million includes new energy efficient furnaces, window replacement, and bathroom renovations in 210 apartments.

* C. Ted Dombrowski Apartments (E. 15th and Wallace Streets) $558,000 includes new energy efficient furnaces, replacement of exterior siding, and new electrical panels for 33 apartments.

* Friendship Apartments (11th and French Streets) $135,000 to replace main heating system for 200 apartments.

* Various Sites $234,000 to replace or repair sidewalks.

* 2120B Gladstone Court $698,000 to rebuild a five unit apartment building that was lost in a fire that occurred in November 2010.

All of this work is well under way. Most of the work is scheduled to be complete by the spring of 2012. Funding for these capital improvements will come from a variety of sources including Capital Fund grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ($5.7 million); operating reserves ($1.3 million), insurance proceeds ($725,000), and loans ($2.4 million).

The Housing Authority provides affordable housing to over 8,000 Erie residents.