The Housing Authority of Northumberland County hit a home run with Freedom Court.

The new housing units for low-income, older military veterans were built on an empty lot at 310 W. Seventh St. — a piece of land that, in the 1940s, was used as a war garden, providing food for area residents during World War II.

Now, it’s home for people like Robert Shuda, 62, a retired airman who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1975 to 1979.

Karen Leonovich, the administrator of the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging, noted that many older adults and military veterans are in need of assistance in obtaining safe housing.

“Code-related repairs, energy costs and the need for home modifications for physical disabilities are very real concerns for seniors and vets,” she said. “This project is a true blessing for our most vulnerable population.”

Housing projects such as these help prevent people — in this case veterans — from falling into homelessness. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that about 13,199 people are homeless on any given night in Pennsylvania and that more than 850 of them are military veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than 40,000 military veterans are homeless on any given night in the United States.

The housing project in Mount Carmel broke ground in October 2018 and was completed in March. It includes five garden-style apartments, each with a full kitchen, dining/living room, bath, bedroom, front porches and additional parking. It is modeled after Phoenix Court Apartments in Atlas, not far from Mount Carmel.

Funding for the $983,000 project consisted of $750,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development’s HOME Investment Partnership Program, $200,000 from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund and $33,640 from the county’s federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

“It’s a big improvement to the area,” said Mount Carmel Mayor Philip “Bing” Cimino. A military veteran himself, Cimino said he was pleased to help push the project forward.

Ed Christiano, the executive director of the Housing Authority, said the apartments filled up quickly. Five veterans and the spouse of one of those veterans now live in Freedom Court. A grand opening ceremony is planned for Aug. 28.

“We’re very pleased with how it came out,” Christiano said. “We’re happy with what we’ve done here.”

All of those involved in the project should be. They planted a few seeds and just look what grew out of that former war garden.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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