There’s a lot to like about Harrisburg’s newest apartment complex, which opened on Tuesday with 20 affordable units exclusively for homeless veterans.
Not only did the project rehabilitate vacant and blighted buildings at 5th and Kelker streets, but much of it was built by ex-offenders re-entering the workforce after incarceration.
Tarik Casteel, the president of TLC Work-Based Training, said that the completion of the Harrisburg Uptown Building (HUB) and the HUB Veteran Housing Campus represents a huge success for the city’s minority trades workforce, its veterans and its re-entrant population.
“I’m so overwhelmed today,” said an emotional Casteel, who spearheaded the project with his aunt, Juanita Edrington-Grant, director of the nonprofit Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministry (CRAM). “This is the first veteran housing complex in Harrisburg that I know of that’s built by minorities and ex-offenders.”
A construction contractor and Harrisburg High School graduate, Casteel himself was incarcerated on three occasions. He founded TLC Construction and Renovations and its nonprofit arm, TLC Work-Based Training, after serving time in the state penitentiary.
The nonprofit runs a certified trades apprenticeship program for former prisoners.
The HUB complex marks TLC’s first major undertaking as a property developer. The $5.3 million project was made possible by tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency (PHFA), one of the first-ever grants in its minority developer tax credit awards program.
PHFA Executive Director and CEO Brian Hudson said it’s unusual for a project to receive a tax credit award on its first application, as HUB did. But the veteran housing project hit all of PHFA’s award criteria, such as targeting an underserved population and investing in a low-income location.
In addition to creating 20 one-bedroom apartments for veterans, the project also razed a blighted structure to build the HUB office building on an adjacent lot. Many of the suites in the HUB will be occupied by minority-owned businesses and nonprofits, including TLC, CRAM and the Pennsylvania Diversity Coalition.
Casteel also touted the high level of minority business participation in the project. He said that 33 percent of the labor on the apartment building was from the local labor force, and 25 percent was from minority contractors.
At the adjacent office building, minority participation rose to 82 percent, he said.
State and local officials appeared at HUB’s ribbon cutting today, where many hailed it as a model for inclusive, responsible development.
“If we keep supporting our ex-offender population and breaking down stereotypes, look what can happen,” said Harrisburg’s state Rep. Patty Kim.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said that the new campus “turned an eyesore into a source of community pride.” He heaped praise on Casteel, Edrington-Grant and Hudson, but also issued a warning.
The mayor said that development in the city will be stifled if the state legislature does not grant Harrisburg special tax provisions and allow it to exit Act 47, a state-run financial oversight program.
A recent report from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development proposes doubling property taxes in the city over three years if the legislature does not act.
Papenfuse and Kim both agree that the proposal would devastate developers and property owners in the city.
The mayor’s comments were followed by a jubilant ribbon cutting. Homeless veterans began moving into the HUB apartments at 1 p.m. today.