A Changing of the Guard
If crime is not curtailed at Leland Point, it certainly won’t be from a lack of trying. The approximately 1,100-unit apartment complex in south Baldwin Borough—sharing its name with nearby Leland Park—changed ownership in June 2011, and there’s a new sheriff in town.
No, the Baldwin police haven’t stopped monitoring the place—there’s still a police substation at Leland Point—but District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. announced in June 2011 that his office is no longer overseeing the property. Zappala charged Leland Point’s former owners—Leland Point Holdings LLC—with one count of public nuisance in June 2010.
“The people that were living there (at Leland Point) were treated very badly,” Zappala said in June 2011, “and you are entitled, as a matter of law, to certain promises when you have a lease arrangement with a landlord: They’re called warranties of habitability. The short version (of that) is safe and decent housing, and they received neither.”
There have been no such complaints from the district attorney’s office since Leland Point’s new ownership—Apollo Property Management LLC—bought the complex. In fact, there have hardly been any complaints at all, unless you count ones surely made by residents who have been told to leave.
Apollo Property’s Marketing Manager Stephanie Sturzinger said that her company has opted not to renew leases for people in more than 200 units at Leland Point since taking over. In fact, some residents have altogether been told to leave mid-lease.
“If it’s not a good, quality resident, we’re definitely making changes,” Sturzinger said on Friday. “We’ve really cleaned house here.”
Apollo has been using background checks provided by the company CoreLogic’s SafeRent program to determine who its Leland Point tenants should be. Sturzinger explained that the background checks are used in a formula that factors in variables such as tenants’ credit and criminal histories. Apollo will reject or even remove tenants with poor credit scores and/or lengthy criminal reports.
In addition, Apollo is phasing out the practice of renting at Leland Point to those who rely on Section 8 vouchers, or Low-Income Housing Assistance, to pay for their rents. The Cleveland area-based property management company’s new Leland Point lease applicants must have monthly incomes that are at least three-and-half times the cost of those applicants’ proposed monthly rents.
“We want to make sure that everyone is financially stable to make all of their payments (including rent),” Sturzinger said. “Sometimes, (residents) aren’t thinking of car payments, credit card payments, those types of things.”
Apollo is not removing existing low-income residents at Leland Point, though. Sturzinger said that Section 8 or other low-income residents have been grandfathered in, and they will not be removed unless they fail CoreLogic background checks.
Less than 5 percent of current Leland residents are using Section 8 vouchers, Sturzinger said.
Renovations, Upgrades and the Leland Point Clubhouse
Sturzinger said that Apollo is seeking “a different kind of resident” at Leland Point in order to cover the costs of upgrades and full renovations at the complex. Around 600 units will be renovated or have recently been renovated in order to change the layout of those units—mostly enhancements to the kitchen and living areas but also to ceiling fixtures. The remainder of Leland Point’s units will be upgraded or have recently been upgraded in some way with new carpeting, paint, stoves, refrigerators, microwaves, cabinets and kitchen floors. The fully renovated units will also have those new amenities.
Some of the upgrades, though—not the new, full renovations—were completed as long ago as 10 years, management said.
Apollo’s full renovations, which often include lowered breakfast counters—are being called “extreme” units, and the minimally upgraded units are being called “basics.” The “basic” units are cheaper than the “extremes.”
Still, an overall increase in prices will cause some Leland residents to have to search for new housing. Apollo cannot disrupt existing rental agreements and prices, but once those agreements expire—most residents from previous ownership are in a 12-month lease—the new, higher prices will take effect.
New prices (all monthly) are as follows:
- Studio (around 420 square feet) - $450
- One-bedroom junior (around 525 square feet) - $525
- One-bedroom basic (530-630 square feet) - $575
- One-bedroom extreme (530-630 square feet) - $680
- Two-bedroom basic (690-770 square feet) - $625
- Two-bedroom extreme (690-770 square feet) - $725
- Townhome basic (around 765 square feet) - $750
- Townhome extreme (around 765 square feet) - $850
- Three-bedroom basic (around 765 square feet) - $700
- Three-bedroom extreme (around 765 square feet) - $800
Management is also building a new Leland Point Clubhouse—currently being used as Apollo office space—for residents that will include a party room, computers, printers, pool tables, TVs, a cooking area, a fitness center and more. The fitness center will feature treadmills, stationary bikes, yoga space, a universal gym and other exercise equipment.
The clubhouse already has a patio area that overlooks the Leland swimming pool—open to tenants in the summer.
The clubhouse is not nearly completed yet, though—it will be at least another 60 days for some part of it to be finished—and Leland Point’s existing fitness center has been removed in the interim, an approach that some residents have had issues with.
Alex McAtee, a player with the Pittsburgh Passion women’s football team who lives in one of Leland Point’s yet-to-be-altered units, said that finding a place to exercise has been especially tough. McAtee relies on public transportation to get around and used to exercise at Leland’s old fitness center, which was well within walking distance of her apartment.
Mark Vierheller, a Peters Township resident and Apollo’s project manager for Leland Point, said that the wait for a new clubhouse will be worth it.
“It will be a resident center that will bring people into the heart of the community,” Vierheller said on Friday, “the hub that everyone comes to to enjoy the fitness center, the community rooms to watch a football game on Sunday. Those are all included in the price of rent.”
Tenants will also be allowed to bring guests into the clubhouse.
“Nobody else (other rental companies) around here (Pittsburgh’s South Hills area) will be able to compare to it,” Vierheller said. “It’s really going to get our residents something that no one else has.”
Sturzinger said that residents in non-altered units, like McAtee, are neither being forced to leave nor relocated to another unit to allow for renovation or upgrades.
“As a lease expires, and if resident moves out, we would then go in to do the renovation work,” Sturzinger said. “However, if a resident would like to move to a renovated apartment home, we are more than happy to work with them on making this transition as their current lease expires.”
Once a resident’s lease expires, that resident is welcome to stay at Leland Point, Sturzinger said, but she or he would have to pay Apollo’s increased rental rate and would have to continue to pass background checks.
“If you’ve been a good resident, you abide by the rules, you don’t bring a negative element to the community, there’s no reason for you to go,” Vierheller said.
Police at Leland Point
“For the last 10 years at least, we have spent an extraordinary amount of police resources and time (at Leland Point),” said Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott on Jan. 5, 2011, three days after a man was shot and killed in Leland’s 5400 block of Youngridge Drive.
Scott said then that approximately 10 percent of Baldwin Borough’s population resides at Leland Point but that approximately 65 percent of the borough’s police calls come from there.
On Saturday, Baldwin Council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk, who was President of the council when Apollo became Leland’s new owners, talked about how that has changed.
“Apollo management is actively doing background checks before renting units out, which, along with the work of our police department, has helped to bring the incidents of crime down 25 percent over the previous year,” Stelmasczyk said. “We have also seen a reduction in the number of fire calls.
“We (borough officials) have met with them (Apollo management), and they have made about $4 million in improvements to the complex. They work well with our borough manager (John Barrett) and our police department.”
Still, Sturzinger and Vierheller are aware of some South Hills residents’ perceptions of Leland Point. They’ve heard all of the degrading nicknames for the complex but remain convinced that they are on the right track to changing those perceptions.
“People can’t believe the difference that six months have made,” Vierheller said. “My cousin lives in Bethel (Park), and his business is here in Baldwin. And he used to say to me, ‘God, that place is a disaster.’ But (he) hadn’t been over here in years.
“I want Pittsburghers to stop thinking back five years ago and come back and actually look at it … You can actually see the improvements. We’re making changes where you can actually see the differences.
“We’re reenergizing a big piece of Baldwin.”
Sturzinger said that Apollo has remained relatively quiet to media and the general public about its background checks, increased rental costs and renovations—until now.
“We didn’t say anything for the first seven months because we were busy working, renovating, pulling everything together,” she said. “Now, we’re ready to show everyone all of the hard work that we’ve been doing and what we have planned for the future.”
Vierheller and Sturzinger said that management is mulling a name change to Leland Point, but there are no plans yet for that.
Living in South Baldwin
Vierheller, as a South Hills resident, speaks glowingly about the housing opportunity that Leland Point could be for Pittsburgh-area residents, pointing to nearby shopping and public transportation to downtown Pittsburgh.
“I love seeing any new business opening,” Vierheller said. “I like to see any reinvestment in the community. I think it is fantastic for our residents to have a choice for stores. I think it’s great for Baldwin.”
Foodland Markets has a location in south Baldwin, as well. In fact, Foodland is an even shorter walk from the clubhouse.
Baldwin-Whitehall Patch contributor William McCloskey’s opinion piece on Leland Point in October 2011 provided a history of Leland Point’s role in developing the South Hills.
“In the best of times, Leland Point was known as ‘Baldwin Court Apartments,’ McCloskey wrote in October. “In the 1960s and ’70s, it drew hundreds of residents to the South Hills who, otherwise, might never have considered living there.
“Many of the people who started their adult and professional lives in attractive, affordable Baldwin Court rental units went on to buy houses in Baldwin, Whitehall, Pleasant Hills, Brentwood and Bethel Park—helping to build the South Hills solidly out to the Washington County line.
“Often, it was young, out-of-town engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University who availed themselves of Baldwin Court’s value and settled there as they started good-paying jobs at U.S. Steel, Westinghouse-Bettis and Fisher Body.”
Coincidentally enough, Carnegie Mellon has invited representatives of Leland Point to an off-campus housing fair on Feb. 1.
Leland Point is roughly 11 miles from CMU’s campus and 8.5 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
“Location is the key to any real estate,” Vierheller said. “We have a phenomenal location to get anywhere in the city.”
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