The $90M St. Joseph Hospital Redevelopment with Government Housing Will Bring Crime and Harm Home Values While Gentrifying Existing Nearby Lower Income Areas
The proposal to turn the brutalist-style old St. Joseph Hospital on College Avenue into housing, offices, and shops – including low-income housing – would create serious traffic problems, increase crime and drive down housing prices in the neighborhood.
On Monday, the first step toward this $90 million redevelopment advanced, when the Lancaster City Council Community Planning Committee voted 3-0 to advance a request to rezone the property. The measure they passed would change the property at 250 College Avenue from “hospital complex” to “mixed use” zoning.
The measure will get a first reading at the full council meeting on Aug. 11.
Neighbors in the area that Lancaster-blog spoke to raised a variety of concerns and objections to the $90 million project – ranging from fears of gentrification to the influx of crime that inevitably come with low-income, subsidized housing. One common idea floated by neighbors was that the entire, ugly facility should be torn down and replaced with a greenspace park.
The property is located in a unique area that borders both high-end homes and lower-income neighborhoods. This means the redevelopment could hurt lower-income renters with the gentrification effect that could price them out of their own homes, while simultaneously driving down home values in other, higher-income bordering neighborhoods because of the crime and other negative externalities that accompany low-income government housing.
Late last month, Lancaster City announced that UPMC had reached an agreement with a buyer and principal developer, Washington Place Equities (WPE) and the infamous HDC MidAtlantic as a partner.
HDC MidAtlantic is the largest developer of government housing in Lancaster and traffics in low-income housing credits.
Initial plans for development include adding 325 housing units, more than a third of which would be subsidized public housing.
An eyesore of modernist architecture, St. Joseph’s has been vacant since February 2019, when UPMC moved its emergency and inpatient care to a facility in Lititz.
Lancaster City is all-in on this redevelopment scheme, and touts it on the city website.
“The City has asked WPE to be as transparent as possible in sharing their plans for the site,” the City of Lancaster said on its website. “Since late last year, the City Administration has been engaged in extensive negotiations with UPMC and prospective developers to ensure that public policy goals will be met through the redevelopment. The City Planning Commission, the City Council, and numerous advocates and stakeholders have played an essential role in shaping an exciting mixed-use, mixed-income vision.”
WPE and HDC will host an online community meeting for neighborhood residents about the development tomorrow, on August 6.
While there are numerous problems that will be created if this plan is approved, most troubling is the call for building three sites of “affordable” government housing in a neighborhood that boasts elegant and well-kept rowhouses.
They want to build these government units in, among other elements, two four-story apartment buildings of 20 to 30 units. One would be at 913 Wheatland Ave., currently a parking lot. The other would be at 213 College Ave., currently a medical building that would be demolished.
They also plan 50 to 60 government project townhouses on a section of the hospital block facing Marietta Avenue.
Dana Hanchin, HDC MidAtlantic president and CEO, told the media that the project may not get approved for public housing credits if it doesn’t have community support – meaning loud enough opposition could derail this whole scheme.
“Because of the demand for credits, many good projects do not get funded on the first round and have to apply again,” Hanchin said. “That being said, competitive, compelling, high-impact projects with a high degree of community support and buy-in can get funded the first time in.”
Ironically, much of the opposition right now comes from community members more worried about gentrification rather than the damage this project will cause in terms of traffic, crime and neighboring home values, but every bit of opposition helps.
HDC MidAtlantic was founded in Lancaster in 1971, and it owns or manages 3,700 affordable housing units in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, including 1,500 in Lancaster County, where crime rates are higher and neighboring home values are negatively impacted compared to housing that is market priced.
The neighbors are right – they should demolish this whole property and create a greenspace.