State College

Waupelani Heights low-income rentals being rebuilt after blaze

Apartments wiped out by fire on the Fourth of July will be a place to call home again this summer.

One building in the Waupelani Heights apartment complex burned when a barbecue grill turned the building into a three-alarm blaze in less than 15 minutes last year. No one was injured, but more than 40 people in 19 units were left homeless.

On Monday, the Affordable Housing Division of S&A Homes announced the apartments’ reconstruction.

“This is a unique situation, and we appreciate the cooperation of the borough, Centre Region code and most importantly, the numerous fire companies that stopped the fire in July and assured that no one was injured,” said Executive Vice President Andrew Haines in a statement. “Also, the community stepped up and provided temporary housing, shelter and other materials for tenants to continue their lives in this horrible tragedy.”

Construction is underway and expected to wrap up by July 31, according to S&A.

“There is a great need for them,” said Herman Slaybaugh, State College’s interim planning director. “It’s important to get them rebuilt and get people into them.”

The question now is, will all the original residents be able to return?

While former tenants will be given the first opportunity to renew their leases, they will have to re-qualify for the apartments, which are part of a low-income housing tax credit program. Residents need to earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

“This is where it gets complicated,” Haines said. “The project financing requires tenants to be under a certain income level upon execution of their lease. If their income rises after signing, we do not evict them; they can remain. But since their lease ended after the fire, and if their income in July is higher than our minimum, we unfortunately cannot rent to them.”

Linda Marshall, senior planner with Centre County Planning, said that is part of the ongoing issue regarding the Centre Region apartment market.

“It continues to be a struggle with affordable housing, especially the rental market,” she said. “There is a need on the owner side to increase inventory.”

The Waupelani Heights project will not provide an increase over the inventory that existed last year, when the need was already there, she said, but will only replace those 19 units that were lost. Getting them back still leaves room for more, Marshall said.