Bellevue housing program begins

A transitional housing program designed to help people in need has planted its roots in Bellevue, where 46 row houses are targeted to become homes for people who have trouble finding safe, affordable housing.

As of April 1, the Zero Six Eight corporation began implementing its plans to create one of the largest transitional housing programs of its type in the northeastern United States, according to Zero Six Eight founder Daniel Bull, by taking on a master lease for all of the row houses on Gilliland Place and Laurel Avenue in Bellevue.

This is a new venture for the company, which up until this point has focused primarily on job and business development for the “formerly incarcerated,” or ex-convicts, a designation that includes Bull himself. Bull served 21 months in a federal prison for a variety of financial crimes involving investment fraud and misappropriation of his company’s funds. He entered a guilty plea to the charges in August of 2011, and was sentenced in December of that year.

That experience, he says, produced not only the idea for a program that would provide job and business opportunities for convicted criminals willing to work for them, but also the name of the corporation. In the federal prison system, inmate identification numbers end in three digits that identify where each inmate is from. For Pittsburgh inmates, those numbers are 068.

The corporation created the Work Pittsburgh program, which provides jobs in construction for convicts with existing skills or those willing to learn them. The program operates from an industrial park on the South Side that was purchased by Zero Six Eight and which serves as a base for a booming modular home construction business.

The transitional housing program goes a few steps beyond the company’s initial focus on convicted criminals. It will work with anyone who has a need for safe housing who might otherwise end up in a bad environment because of past problems, such as homelessness, poor credit record, or other circumstances. Instead of automatically rejecting people who might be refused good housing by commercial landlords, Bull said, Zero Six Eight will take a closer look at their circumstances and determine on a case-by-case basis whether the housing applicant is someone who can use this opportunity as a step to a better life.

“We want to disrupt the slumlord environment for those in need,” Bull said.

He said the company currently is working with a number of social service agencies and programs, including the Chartiers Center and the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. Of the 31 people who have so far been moved into the housing, only two, Bull said, have criminal backgrounds. Others include homeless or disabled veterans, and even a disabled police officer.

Zero Six Eight does not own the properties. The owner of the houses on both Gilliland and Laurel is the Gilliland-Laurel corporation, which retained Cedarcove Capital Ventures to manage the properties before the owner entered into a master lease with Zero Six Eight, which now is renting individual rooms to people on a month-to-month basis. The short-term leases work for both sides, Bull said, giving the company the ability to quickly evict any problem tenants that may slip through the cracks, and the tenants the ability to move on when they are ready.

Bull said that there are rules for all the tenants, which prohibit violence, threats of violence, and the use of alcohol or illegal drugs. He also said that the company will not lease a room to anyone who has a record of violence toward women or children, including anyone involved in any way with child pornography.

He pointed to the crime problems that have been reported in the Laurel – Gilliland area, including drug transactions and a recent drive-by shooting. Those problems were created by the original tenants of the homes, he said, who have been evicted.

Unfortunately for some of the longtime tenants of the row houses, they also will have to be evicted in order for the program to develop, Bull said.

Bellevue code enforcement officer Jim DelCroix said that he is still reviewing plans for the housing program, which is hard to categorize. The homes are neither boarding houses nor halfway houses, he said, although he added that he planned on consulting other borough officials. At this point, however, he has not determined that the program violates Bellevue’s zoning laws in any way.

For Bull, the housing program is all part of the larger message he is trying to send: “You can do good, you can turn a profit, and you don’t have to be a greedy pig,” he said.

Representatives of the Veterans Leadership Program and Chartiers Services did not respond to telephone calls attempting to confirm their involvement with the housing project. The Citizen also attempted to get comment from residents being displaced, but none wanted to comment on the record.