Bollinger exploring residential services for clients in Warren

Bollinger Enterprises, Inc., (BEi) is once again looking at the possibility of expanding offerings in service to the disabled community.

While still in the planning stages, BEi is examining potential partnerships and sources of aid in an effort to expand affordable housing offerings for people with disabilities in Warren.

“We’ve been having some conversations just about options and possibilities,” BEi Executive Director Bob Klebacha said. “We’re still in the exploratory phases.”

The idea isn’t a new one. The organization has been discussing the proposal, both internally and with potential partners, for approximately two years, exploring possible locations and funding.

He noted that BEi’s volunteer board includes parents of disabled individuals who, along with members of the community, have been eyeing the possibilities of such an expansion.

“Several people have expressed interest in independent living, but kind of supervised. What we’re trying to do is meet the needs of the disabled within the community,” Klebacha said.

The organization’s effort got a significant boost last November.

While BEi has been in discussions about possibly entering the housing arena with a number of organizations, Northwest Savings Bank took a concrete step in bringing the plan to fruition when it donated the building at 316 Pennsylvania Avenue E. to BEi.

“The donation of the property by Northwest Savings Bank is a step forward for the BEi effort,” a press release provided by Klebacha stated. “The building, located on the east side of Warren, is a ‘block’ building constructed in the early twentieth century that previously had retail space on the first floor and residential apartments on the second and third floors.”

Klebacha said the roof and utility lines for the building are relatively new and in good shape, but that the project will require significant work.

“The building is substantial,” he said. “In order to qualify for any sort of public funding… We’re not looking at just a new coat of paint. We’re looking at major renovation to move forward, to make it work as a project.”

According to Klebacha, BEi envisions using the building space in much the same manner it was used previously, with upstairs housing and downstairs utility space, but cautioned nothing is set in stone yet.

“Our vision, and it would take three to five years, the upper floors would house 12 to 15 units ranging from efficiencies to full apartments and the lower floor maybe some program space, possibly our therapeutic services,” he said, “or maybe some commercial space downstairs. We have some options we’re looking at for possible uses of the space.”

Klebacha pointed out that there is a need for such housing in Warren, as many of those who would be served at the site do not drive, making living outside of town difficult.

“This really does fit the mission of Bollinger Enterprises, to serve the needs of this population,” Klebacha said. “You think of Bollinger as the workshop facility, but we’ve really expanded and have a number of other facilities and services. The people we’re talking about are mostly mobile. They participate in the community already and this is sort of in town rather than out in the country somewhere.”

Due to the income realities of the disabled population, the organization is also looking to partner with organizations to provide the housing at a subsidized rate.

“There’s a need for subsidized rent,” Klebacha said. “One of the things that we’re looking at in partnership with the (Warren County) Housing Authority is the possibility of some of the units being subsidized. What you run into, that you don’t always with a private development, is with people who have reduced earning capacity or are on SSI (Social Security Disability) , you need to have equal access. Not necessarily just people served by BEi. The community at large and people eligible in the community to use public funding.”

Besides the Warren County Housing Authority, BEi has been working to partner with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Warren-Forest Economic Opportunities Council and Housing and Neighborhood Development Services (HANDS) of Erie.

Klebacha noted that HANDS, which can provide help with studies and planning required for state funding, is considered a “preferred contractor” by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

“They prefer to receive an application from an organization like HANDS,” he said. “Again, we’re looking at partnerships to try to make things work. For this year, the possibility’s not there through HANDS, but in the future we’ll see. For now we’re working with organizations like the housing authority to see if we can make it work. We just have to move forward as it comes. We’re still in the planning process.”

Other projects involving HANDS in the county include Presidential Place, Warren Anthems Apartments and Buchanan Court.

Klebacha expressed gratitude towards the agencies BEi has been in discussions with and optimism towards the project’s future.

“I think what we have is an idea what we’d like to do with it, and the other groups have an interest as well, depending on their goals and strategic plans,” he said. “Everyone’s very proactive about this, but there’s nothing fixed in stone as to how it would work.”