Governor Kathy Hochul today announced that construction has started on True Bethel Commons, a $14.7 million, 39-apartment affordable housing development in Niagara Falls with eight apartments fully adapted for people with physical disabilities. Supported in part by New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the new housing is taking shape through the adaptive reuse of the vacant former historic Sacred Heart school, rectory, and convent buildings on South Avenue.
"Creative, thoughtful investment in New York's past empowers New York's future," Governor Hochul said. "The True Bethel school, where thousands of children learned to read and write and think, has a new purpose-affordable housing for New Yorkers who are working hard to get ahead and to give their families a good life. All New Yorkers deserve this chance and that's why we pledge to continue to bring more and more affordable housing opportunities to communities across this great State."
The 39 apartments will be affordable to households earning at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income. Eight apartments will be fully accessible and adapted for people with certain physical needs. The project will have 25 Project-Based Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers from the city of Niagara Falls.
True Bethel Commons is close to health care facilities, municipal services, schools, retail establishments, grocery stores, pharmacies, a library, and public parks. Its urban location provides direct access to multiple public transportation routes that provide residents direct access to the city of Niagara Falls' commercial corridors and an array of other services outside of the immediate neighborhood.
The complex is listed on the State and Federal Register of Historic Places. The design must preserve the character of the buildings, including maintaining the wide school corridors and transom windows, as well as the extensive woodwork and stained-glass windows in the rectory and convent house, and restoring a large portion of the gymnasium.
The project was designed to meet Enterprise Green Communities requirements and building amenities include a community room with a kitchen area, playground, bulk storage for bikes and other larger objects, computer room, and laundry rooms in each building. Tenants will be responsible for electricity, heat, and gas. All apartments will include energy efficient ranges and ovens, refrigerators and lighting.
Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc. is developing this project in partnership with True Community Development Corporation.
New York State Homes and Community Renewal provided $7.9 million in equity through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program and $2.3 million in Housing Trust Fund subsidy. In addition, there is $2.3 million in Federal Historic Tax Credit Equity and $1.5 million in State Historic Tax Credit equity allocated from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York provided $390,000 and the city of Niagara Falls contributed $50,000 to the cost of development.
HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, "Preserving and enhancing the historic character of communities like Niagara Falls through adaptive reuse is central to HCR's mission. This investment in True Bethel Commons is evidence of our ongoing commitment to partnering with faith-based organizations to breathe new life into underused properties and deliver additional housing and services to the residents and communities of Western New York. This new $14.7 million complex will provide 39 beautiful, unique affordable homes for individuals and growing families. Congratulations to Belmont Housing and the City of Niagara Falls for their generous and cooperative efforts to plan, fund and, through the worst of the pandemic, get this development on the road to completion."
True Bethel Commons is part of the state's program to provide New Yorkers with access to safe, affordable housing through its $20 billion, five-year Housing Plan. The plan makes housing accessible and combats homelessness by building and preserving more than 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing.
Over the past decade, HCR has dedicated more than $500 million in resources to finance 82 multifamily developments and nearly 5,600 affordable apartments in the Western New York Region. The agency's investment has leveraged more than $754 million in other funding to create or preserve these developments.
Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "Documenting such historic resources as the former Sacred Heart Church complex is a key part of our mission here at State Parks. Our Historic Preservation Division aided in getting this site listed to the State and National Register of Historic Places in 2019, opening the door to the availability of the state and federal rehabilitation tax credits that help make this project possible. Over the last decade, the State has approved use of commercial tax credits for more than 1,000 historic properties, driving more than $12 billion in private investment. This magnificent complex in Niagara Falls dates to the 1850s and expanded over the years, and now it has a new life continuing to serve its community."
In the Western New York Region since 2011, historic tax credits have supported more than 134 commercial projects, totaling more than $1.1 billion in projected investment. A study by the National Park Service details the impact of the tax credit on jobs and tax revenue in New York State. For the five-year period from 2015 - 2019, historic tax credit program activity in New York State generated 67,578 jobs nationally and more than $195 million in local, state and federal taxes.
Senator Robert Ortt said, "True Bethel Commons will provided a safe and welcoming space for Niagara Falls families to live and grow in our community. The convenience of its location will not only provide easy access to critical public resources but also important community assists for residents. I applaud New York State and all of the Western New York partners involved in the construction of this vital affordable housing project."
Niagara County Legislature Chairman Becky Wydysh said, "This is an exciting project, not only because it will create quality, affordable housing that is sorely needed, but also because it is the type of adaptive reuse that is an important priority for all of us. Rebuilding our neighborhoods starts with taking sites like the former Sacred Heart School and giving them a second life. Getting projects of this type from the drawing board to breaking ground is never easy, so I commend all those involved in True Bethel Commons for all their efforts to reach today's milestone."
Belmont Housing Vice President Brad Packard said, "The True Bethel Commons project will compliment and expand upon the efforts of the City and State in connection with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative along the Bridge District Corridor in Niagara Falls. Belmont Housing is very glad to contribute to this broader initiative with this investment in partnership with True Community Development Corporation, the City of Niagara Falls and New York State. True Bethel Commons will provide 39 new homes for deserving families in the community in addition to restoring and preserving a significant historical asset for this neighborhood."