10/11/2011

Housing VisionsBegins

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported that work has begun on the Housing Visions project in the Genessee - Pine area.

The long-awaited makeover of one of the city’s most run-down residential areas is under way.
Housing Visions, the Syracuse based nonprofit agency, began digging foundations last week for the first three of the nine apartment houses it intends to erect on and near Genesee Street.
That area, just south of downtown, for years has been the epicenter of drug dealing and other crime in Lockport.
The $8.6 million project is projected for completion in December 2012, according to Ben Lockwood, director of development for Housing Visions. The first apartments will be available for rent next summer.
Alderman Jack L. Smith Jr., who lives nearby, is a former block club president who recruited Housing Visions to come to Lockport after learning of its success in constructing clean housing in distressed areas in other upstate cities....
As for the final funding:

...The City of Lockport a year ago granted Housing Visions a 20-year property tax exemption on what are to be called Lockport Canal Homes.

Lockwood said the primary funding source for the project was the sale of $5.8 million in low-income housing tax credits to Enterprise Community Partners, a national low-income housing organization.

State low-interest loans directly to Housing Visions paid most of the rest, although Lockwood said the city contributed $40,000 in addition to making a couple of foreclosed properties available for $1

The designs weren't all that they could have been but that is what happens when city wide design guidelines do not exist. People spend a lot of time arguing over number based zoning when it's the actual forms of the structures and their placements which have the biggest effects.

Let's hope the city supplements this new construction with some infrastructure improvement of their own and some special incentives for private owners in the area.

Update: Historical image for comments.

32 comments:

savelkpthousing said...

MJ..launching the website today.
It's time to speak up, and be heard. Time to act as a united front.

Time for action.

savelockporthousing.com

Xavier said...

May I ask what, exactly, you would like us to speak up about?
Who is involved in this "united front?"
What type of action are you considering?
I'm all for "fixing" the housing blight, but until we have responsible tenants and landlords it's going to be a long, hard crawl.
What are you thinking of doing?
I'm asking these questions seriously. Depending upon the answers to my questions I expect that many people will be willing to help.
Thank you

george2012 said...

What happened to the historical tax credits they were going to use? Funny this (imho) waste of taxpayers money is happening so close the the preservation groups conference in Buffalo where they are touring buildings that deserve historical tax credits, vs. reviving our slums.
At least using low income funding they are finally admitting thses houses aren't being built to upgrade a historical district, they are being built just to add more low income housing to the area. Once again, great idea, let's fix up a welfare slum area by adding more clients to it!
And it mentions the tax breaks that they are giving this development, so don't forget as you complain about city/school taxes they will be paying approx $12,000 a year for the next 20 years - and I'm guessing there will be at least 50 kids that we will be paying school bills for.

savelkpthousing said...

go to www.savelockporthousing.com

The answers you are looking for are there.

gijoe2012 said...

"these aren't the droids you're looking for"

Stormtrooper: These aren't the droids we are looking for".....

Xavier said...

What Historical tax credits, George?
There's a lot of money involved with them but I don't think you know how they work. A credit is a hell of a lot different than a deduction. These ugly things won't qualify for either at the rate they're going.
If you're in a designated National Trust area you're eligible for a LOAN! A NICE loan. Soon the area where these things are going will be eligible, but if they're accepted for anything they really should've talked to us first.
It WILL get better - more areas, more individual homes & buildings, etc. What I'm worried about now is the f'n Federal Government which will probably cut things like this from the get go when it's the last thing they should cut.

george2012 said...

They were planning on financing this thru tax credits, here's a quote from the Buffalo news article about it -
"Ben Lockwood, director of development for Housing Visions, said the tax break would probably last only 17 years, because the agency intends to try to sell the houses to the tenants after 15 years. Acquisition and construction is expected to take two years.

He asked the Council for fast action because Housing Visions faces a deadline of next Thursday to apply for a state grant that would be the first part of its financing. The major portion involves the acquisition of state tax credits, which Housing Visions then sells to private investors."

I was wrong about one thing though, the article does go on to state that they will pay the max of $9,000 a year taxes or 5% of rents, so you know that means they will pay the $9,000. I don't know details, but does that mean around half of that goes to the schools district and the other half to the city? Assuming that we will be spending $10,000 a year to educate a child, and if there are 50 kids we will spend about $500,000 a year for them and get around $41,000 (9 houses times $4500 school taxes). taxpayers will subsidize the rest of the bill, as well as subsidizing the rents.
But the good news is we get 9 new $1,000,000 houses!!

Xavier said...

Those tax credits are different than the ones I sounded off about. The parent company of this racket will receive those credits. IF the State and Federal governments provide a lot of hoops that have to be jumped through.
Anyone who now lives in a designated Historical District is eligible for one if they make historically accurate improvements to the exterior of their home.
I agree with you with the rest of it. The darn things are uglier than a barn door - but I THINK people who already live here will get first pickings so the Welfare shouldn't change much.

george2012 said...

Ony in that they are adding more units to the area then currently there. And, besides the huge tax breaks they also bent the zoning laws for them. They added all these units but are not enforcing parking space codes, they are only requiring one spot per apartment - ensuring they will not get any two wage earner families just welfare ones.
But I am sure adding more low income people to the area will defintely improve it......

gijoe2012 said...

yes..and the over-all result is that it's good for the city.

Cleans up nuisance housing
discourages unlawful activity
encourages others to maintain their property

MJ said...

The zoning laws suck. They are outdated remnants of 60 years ago in the misguided quest to cram suburban codes into an urban area. The fact that they make a good portion of the existing city illegal should show how useful/relevant they are. Being number based instead of form based just ensures that crap can be built, but with certain set backs and lot coverages. It does nothing to ensure something "good" is built.

I also believe existing zoning laws are a good reason why the area remains depressed with how much the walk-ability of DT has been compromised. Why live in a dense area if you don't get the benefits? Look at any successful dense area in the region and they are attached to "dense" commercial streets.

This may not be a perfect project but it is much better than the type of development that resides at the end of Garden St. The biggest reasons that it is not closer to perfect is that the city does not have a sensible form based zoning code to show what we demand. It effects each of these small pieces which add up to the feeling, or lack thereof, of the City.

I believe this is a small step forward in the targeted area. IT was started by a neighborhood grass roots effort. The city needs to promote further steps.

gijoe2012 said...

I think you're right on with that analysis.

I much prefer to be "debating" how nice a "period" looking structure would be more appealing, than whether or not more "welfare" families are going to occupy the new spaces.

There apparently was a period in the City's history, where you could erect any building anywhere on your property. I have a 3 car Brick garage that is right on the lot line, front and side. Now the easement is 5'.

Would be nice to see six 3 story English-Type brownstones in row.

MJ said...

That's what I thought should have been going up on the Scrito Trophy lot, town home type facades, preferably in brick etc. I don't see how SHPO thought the two large buildings fit in with the neighborhood.

5' easement's take up 1/3 of a 30' wide city lot. Waste of space.

george2012 said...

My point is you can have dense housing, but it doesn't have to be directly aimed at low income people. The character of the neighborhood will not change unless you try and diversify it away from the low income/welfare neighborhood. And you will never get a walking dt until people aren't afraid of walking through a neighborhood. My opinion is scattering these houses around a neighborhood will just make the entire neighborhood stay low income and won't help make the neighbors any better. Why would I put money into a house in a neighborhood that will only sustain low income apartments, especially when my neighbor in their million dollar house will pay virtually no taxes, doesn't have to obey zoning laws and had subsidies for the improvements and rents? And even if the city did do the smart thing and give deserving people great deals ona house if they agree to fix them up as one ot two families, you'd be nuts to take them up on the deal in a neighborhiid full of low income renters.

MJ I still think, and I say this with respect for your efforts and your opinion, but it seems like your heart and ideas fit better in a bigger city. Lockport was more of a "Mayberry" before we went to heck, with yards, cars, etc. Lockport is not and will never be an Allentown type, dense, walking, larger city downtown. I think if a vote was ever taken the populace would say give me yards, parking, space between neighbors and even some landscaped empty lots. IMHO, I don't think people want packed in 'row' houses without parking or yards. Lockport is more of a suburb town than a city. I dare say it will never be the city you dream about. And I do write this with respect for your efforts and opinions.

savelkpthousing said...

I agree with a lot of what George is saying.
I think there can be a mix of housing, but first and foremost there has to be a reason to by a piece of property in Lockport. Other than very low depressed pricing, there aren't many other reasons.
I think the "low income" rhetoric is over blown and exaggerated when it comes to HV. The screening program as it was explained to me is pretty strict. Employment history, references, it's not the current "den of criminals" that occupy some of the "low income" housing.

It seems appropriate that if you don't like who occupies low income housing in this city you need to blame it on the landlord responsible for renting to that type of tenant in the first place.

george2012 said...

Yes, the reason the area is a slum is landlords renting it to people they shouldn't have in the past and now thats all that will rent there. But, to break that cycle adding more low income won't help. As an ex-landlord with houses in 'marginal' areas I always had problems getting decent tenants because the houses were close to the war zone, not even it it. Good people care about location. HV will have a choice, take what tenants they can or have empty apartments. Good people will not live next door to a drug house. The other problem they will have that I had experience with is good tenants demand two parking spots, these will only have one.
So sure, we will get 9 1 million dollar houses that will be decent, but since they won't be paying taxes on that value, what good will they be?

MJ said...

With respect to your ideas, see the picture of Lockport from the 50's and tell me that it was not "walkable".

Allentown, Hertel, Village of Lewiston or East Aurora, etc. We all have two legs so the ideas fit all sizes of municipalities with the infrastructure in place for people, not just cars.

The burbs have a lock on things designed for just cars or people who want every single thing to be located a car drive away from every other single thing. They can do it cheep with empty cheap green space. All I am saying is don't ask the 7'0" person to be a jockey or the 4'10" person to be a basket ball player.

For the city to turn around it should build on its strengths and physical infrastructure that exists. It should hit for the under served market demographic that sees a new generation of people (and an older one) looking for such an environment. No where have I said ban cars etc. All I ask is don't build just for them.

george2012 said...

Yes we agree downtown should be and could be walkable, the disagreement I have with you is that the neighborhoods around it could (and in my opinion) should have large drive ways and yards so families and working people could move in. Resdential areas should have to have these built in to them.
You appear to be saying residential neighborhoods do not need parking or yardspace. You complain about mandatory easements i.e. on a 30' lot, I'll ask why should anyone even be allowed to build on a 30' lot?
My point is you can have all the walkability you want but if you continue to allow the war zone to 'block' people from walking downtown what good is it?
Propagating projects such as HV will continue to enforce that roadblock in to downtown - more low income tenants with no parking or greenspace for working people and families.

And notice on the pictures that you can actually see individual store fronts, I daresay you couldn't take the picture of our current Main St and find one store entrance - it would look like an imposing stretch of windows without doorways!

savelkpthousing said...

I'll still take new, clean, up-to-code dwellings over what is in the "war zone" today.

I'm hoping the surrounding houses will eventually be vacated, and renovated one at a time. That's how we will recover that entire area. I don't see any reason why it won't be a positive influence.

Xavier said...

Great discussion going on fellas. Truly!
As much as I hate the decor of these new buildings - it's better than another slumlord house that once was one family and now is chopped into at least 6 units inhabited by persons who could give a shlt by the tenants.
THAT is on the landlord.
I simply can't believe these people who live in these buildings! Don't they have ANY self respect or do they like living in a dump?
MJ is correct when it comes to the City's zoning. It MUST be changed to fit the times. (Nice picture by the way.) I know the Zoning Board is working - at least MJ is - but I haven't seen any changes in the Zoning laws lately. And calling up Building Inspections and complaining doesn't work. They label you a crazy man and ignore what you tell them.

MJ said...

The "war zone" may block it now but it has the potential to not only bridge the divide but it is also necessary if DT is to be "successful" and thrive.

My counter point is that the city (DT) can't have all the walk-ability it wants if there is not a dense neighborhood around it to provide 24-7 customers ($$$). Cities naturally densify from the inside out. The outer portions of the city have the larger lots and driveways while giving up the direct pedestrian access to DT. The density also reduces the number of people who need to drive, which reduces the number of parking spots needed which allows more stores which creates a bigger draw and so on. Those who like living in the density (they do exist - it is not a dirty word) provide the sustaining fuel for those who are farther out and stop by once in a while. With out that dense fuel we have nothing.

Making double lots etc next to DT would only keep it in its over-parking-lot state. The town already has the upper hand in that game. Making double lots also reduces the taxable potential of the city thus increasing all of our taxes instead of reducing them.

The individual store front's are gone because we knocked them down and what was then built (if the site was rebuilt) was not required to have them by code. Even though UCC misses on using the street side storefronts, I'm still amazed to this day that it overcame zoning to be built as it had. A commercial street/area cannot have all those nice little storefronts with out denser residential right next to it and even in it.

Lockport needs to be diverse. Everyone could find what they want: be it next to DT, or large lots on Willow or next to a park, or a loft right in DT, etc. Lockport is relatively safe (murder every other year and not random?)and close (but not too close) to 1.2 million people in Erie County. It has a 19th century engineering marvel right in the middle of it. Etc. The only thing holding us back is ourselves.

george2012 said...

How do you think that the war zone will ever disappear if we keep adding more non-working people to it instead of pushing to get working families in it? You can have as dense a neighborhood as you want around it but if they don't have the $$'s you mention then it only hurts the dt. "Dense fuel" must have money to spend, having welfare as your base for the density is counter productive to getting consumers dt. And we have to agree to disagree, I still don't believe the majority of Lockportians want a dense neighborhood next to downtown, they would rather see a neighborhood with 1 or 2 family houses, yards and driveways. This isn't a big city, it's a small town.

MJ said...

Any society will have its poor. In our society we stash them in our inner cities. They need housing. The best option is housing that is up-kept and land owners that hold their tenants to a higher standard. HV does both of those.

If demand was there for 1-2 families they would be there. Just like if there was demand by higher quality tenants landlords would not be renting to lower quality ones.

First and for most the city needs to focus on quality of life issues. They know no income level. The biggest help in these battles is civic participation by residents looking out and informing the city.

Second is creating a unique environment drawing on existing strengths that will draw in those who are creative to start things DT and invest in the homes near it.

Third is revamped zoning/coding that is form based so we get structures that compliment are neighborhoods instead of ones that meet some mathematical use parameters or separated uses solely for the sake of separating uses.

I'm not asking for skyscrapers just as you are probably not asking single family 1 acre plots. We are probably not as far apart as we seem.

The city code for minimum 600 sqft per unit should handle sizing well enough. There should be incentives for landlords to combine units that do not meet these standards into larger units. (a road block being that it would trigger the meeting of a boat load of current code requirements - which equals $$$ - which would require higher rents - which would there the renters at this time?.)

Over time the area would right size itself through market forces. We are currently standing in a "chicken or the egg" moment but there are steps to get things moving forward. HV can be one of them if the city uses it at something to become proactive off of.

gijoe2012 said...

I'll tell you what this entire issue boils down to.

Having people running the city that know how to do more than run for office. Sometimes I think the last creative idea that surfaced in Lockport was the "raceway".

Create friendly surroundings and people will come, but you have to make the effort first. Not many businesses will agree to open shop in the DT area on the "promise" that the blight and boarded up houses will eventually disappear. We have to make them disappear first.

We need people with vision, and City officials with enough intellectual clout to "see" the vision of the Lockport of the future.

Remember "build it and they will come"? That is so true.

Xavier said...

GIJoe - I disagree. I break it down to "good" landlords and "lousy" landlords.
A GOOD landlord will only rent to a good person or family. They take the time - and require a reasonable "downpayment" - from anyone wanting to rent an apartment or house. A good landlord will do careful background checks and will check on their property regularly. By this I don't mean trawling through the house every week - a drive-by will give you a pretty good idea of how they're treating the inside as well as the outside.
A BAD landlord, 1st - probably doesn't live here and is only out for the most money they can squeeze out of the property. 2nd - once a tenant is in there, the only time they care is if that tenant doesn't pay their rent or the thing goes up in flames. Take a drive through the "war zone" and, if you look carefully, you'll see extension cords running out windows to the next apartment and even to the house next door.
Next the garbage. I wonder how many landlords insist on their tenants using the new system? They didn't use the OLD system for crissakes! Here I also blame the landlords who, when a tenant leaves or is thrown out, take the tenants garbage/furniture/etc. and dump it at the curb.
Bottom line? It's NOT the City that is responsible for cleaning the area up - it's the OWNER's responsibility. Period.
Rent to good people who take pride in their rental and actually pay their rent. If they don't maintain the property, evict them. Yes - I know this is a ridiculously long, bad system - but it's something. If ONE landlord took the time and trouble (and $$$) to do this I believe others would get the hint. They can get more money for a well kept apartment than a dump.
Here is where the City falls on its head - Building Inspections. They don't do anything that I can see. I could be wrong, but those extension cords and garbage issues as well as so many more violations must be investigated and cited. HV claims it will do this. The City should too.

george2012 said...

MJ I could have bit my tongue on HV if they had proposed 2 or even 3 family houses with parking - even with the outrageous cost and profits they are getting. That would have been a step towards righting the neighborhood, not the way they are going where they are packing apartments into lots that legally are not big enough (but they got the variances for).

gijoe2012 said...

X
I agree..landlords, landlords, landlords.
And a failed Housing Inspection process. It's an old complaint that remains unresolved.

My point went back in the conversation a little bit. If you want nice "brownstones" if you desire a walking DT if you want quality renters you need to change the paradigm that currently perpetrates the opposite.
Look..I'm not making a political statement, at this point it doesn't matter to me who runs the city. What does matter is whether or not they're smart enough to recognize the problems we have and skillful enough to lay out a 5-10 year plan for growth and revitalization. I know I could do it, I think you could do it, MJ could do it too...but we aren't making those decisions.

Xavier said...

Thanks for the compliment, Joe and yes, I'd like to see it too.
It's beyond the point of Super Mayor riding in on his white horse and making things A-OK. You can't MAKE people care about the way they live. If they want to live in dangerous housing with roaches running rampant and serious hazards all over the place you're not going to change anything.
It's not an income thing. There are a lot of people who are well-off who live in squalor. The "war zone" is the topic of conversation because most of us have to drive through it from time to time and babies can't speak up before their house burns down.
Building Inspections is not doing its job. God forbid a child dies and three to four houses burn to the ground due to faulty electrical service. It's a damn shame and any child dying, for whatever reason is unacceptable. Just because their mothers don't give a sh*t doesn't mean we don't and "we" is embodied in Building Inspections. Step it up fellas or get out so someone who's willing to work for a living can do the job properly.

george2012 said...

Word is ALL the contractors are from out of town. Thanks HV for helping our local trades!

Again, great deal for Lockport, free money, hardly pay any taxes while we all pay to subsidize the rents and pay the school taxes while HV collects the money. There was some hope at least a few local jobs would come out of it...

MJ said...

It was known that HV has it's own construction arm. It was part of the budget documents and is discussed on their website. Seeing that majority of the money is state and federal I don't see the problem. Seeing that a majority of the money is low interest loans how is it "free money"?

I don't mind some fair criticism projects (this or others) but most comments tend to be over exaggerated and don't lead to an honest discussion.

If the city wants to help local trades it should start a simultaneous upgrade of infrastructure in the area (new sidewalks, light standards into DT, etc) If the city rests on only these 9 structures we will in the end only have these 9 structures and nothing more.

george2012 said...

No it wasn't know that they had their own, a matter of fact there was a lot of discussion about how others could bid on the work.

Also, it is free money in that it is our tax dollars they are giving them as interst free loans, and I can't believe you said it is state and federal money so it's no problem. Where do you think that comes from?

And you defended them budgeting $1,000,000 worth of profit before, but now that they are also making the $500,000 that was budgeted profit for the construction phase, do you really still think this isn't a big ripoff?

THEY ARE MAKING $1,500,000 OF PROFIT FROM WE US (AS TAXPAYERS)! Plus all the rent money we will be subsidizing.

Totally ridiculous. All this to add more low income welfare people to the area.

MJ said...

http://www.housingvisions.org/construction.htm

As it says they do use subcontractors and are. I received a document from Smith I'll post separately.

Would I like them to do it for free? Sure? Is it anywhere near the 30% profit that most companies shoot for after labor and materials? No. It's half of that. Did we get to see all of their numbers? Yes. Do the developers in Buffalo who ave done multiple new-build and rehabs find it worth their time to do it for less? If you were taking out loans to complete a project what kind of return would you look for? Also, the article above says tax-credits and "low-interest" loans.

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