Gov. Cuomo announces $20M housing plan for West Middle School

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

It’s not a school anymore, but it will definitely have a purpose in the coming years. It could completely change the housing landscape in Auburn, depending on how the plan is executed.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $20.2 million project to convert the vacant West Middle School at 217 Genesee Street in Auburn into 59 affordable apartments for low-income New Yorkers.

Out of the 59 units, 20 will be designated for single adults with psychiatric disabilities who receive services from the New York State Office of Mental Health.

“This project will provide safe and affordable homes for vulnerable, low-income Auburn residents, as well as an opportunity for individuals with special needs to live independently,” Governor Cuomo said.

“No one should be left without a roof over their heads and this project will bring us one step closer to ensuring every New Yorker has the opportunity to have a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.”

The adaptive reuse of the school building, which has been closed since 2012, into West Middle School Apartments will transform it into a three-story residential building that is a vibrant, revenue-generating asset for the Auburn community.

The former school’s auditorium will remain intact and be available to the public for events.

NYS Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said, “The Auburn community fully embraced the opportunity to return this building to use, serve the public good and to gain tax income at the same time. It’s the definition of a “win-win.” Thanks to our partners in the government, development, nonprofit, and financial sectors, the new West Middle School Apartments will be home to hundreds of New Yorkers for generations.

This development is an important part of Governor Cuomo’s impressive affordable housing legacy and complements his commitment to seeing the region grow and flourish through his Upstate Revitalization Initiative.”

Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, “The Office of Mental Health is committed to providing community-based programs that will give individuals an opportunity to learn the skills they need to thrive on their own.

Supportive housing projects like this one give people with psychiatric disabilities so much more than a roof over their head. It gives them hope and the tools they need to succeed.”

John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA said, “This affordable housing project is another example of a broader statewide focus under Governor Cuomo to make sure all New Yorkers, regardless of income, have access to housing that is energy efficient and comfortable. We are pleased to be a partner in such a worthwhile project that will provide significant benefits to the Auburn community.”

All of the apartments will serve as affordable options for low-income individuals and families.

The supportive housing residents will receive on-site services from Unity House of Cayuga County, a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 designed to enrich the lives of people with disabilities.

The renovation will meet the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction standards as well as the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. There will be off-street parking spots designated for tenants as well as a number of parking spots designated for Unity House staff and clients.

The building is located in a residential neighborhood within walking distance of the main commercial corridor of the city and there is a Central New York Regional Transportation Authority bus stop a half a block away.

The $20.2 million West Middle School Apartments development was financed through a combination of tax-exempt bonds, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Housing Trust Fund, Supportive Housing Opportunity subsidy via Homes and Community Renewal; capital funds and debt service through Office of Mental Health; annual Federal and State Historic Tax Credits; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority incentive funds; and developer equity.

The bond syndicator was Raymond James Tax Credit Funds, Inc. and NBT Bank supplied the Letter of Credit.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer said, “Having a roof over your head is one of life’s basic necessities, and this significant $20 million federal investment in affordable housing will help make that happen for many at-risk families and seniors in the Auburn area. The renovation and completion of these 59 units will provide a clean, affordable place to live for at-risk families, persons with disabilities and seniors.

The key to New York’s continued growth and economic strength is directly tied to building stronger communities in cities like Auburn, and beyond.”

Congressman John Katko said, “This investment will provide housing for those who need it most in our community, and ensure that these individuals can live affordably, independently, and safely.”

State Senator John DeFrancisco said, “The West Middle School Apartments development will transform a building that has been vacant for years into much-needed affordable housing. This is a win for the residents and the entire Auburn community.”

Sue Kimmel, President of Two Plus Four management and construction said, “Preservation of this school was a concern for the city of Auburn. Many residents were sad to see the school close and were worried about an eye sore developing in front of their homes. With Governor Cuomo’s dedication to bringing safe decent affordable housing to those most in need, this private-public partnership worked together to not only provide housing but also prevented a historic structure from falling into disrepair. This project was a win-win for all involved… the City of Auburn was able to place the building back on the tax rolls, the school district was able to sell a building no longer needed, and with the use of Historic Tax Credits the building was preserved.”

Unity House Executive Director Elizabeth Smith said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for both Unity House and Cayuga County. The former West Middle School was sitting empty and provided the opportunity for us to engage with the community by taking this existing asset and turning it into affordable housing. This is a hallmark of Two Plus Four’s work, and directly aligns with Unity House’s mission. The need for housing is great in central New York, and this project feels like a good thing for all.”

The Two Plus Four management and construction companies and their subsidiaries, including Lakewood Development, have a long history of developing and managing affordable housing in New York State and have extensive experience in converting schools to residential use.

A 100 percent woman-owned business enterprise since 2003, Lakewood Development has built a total of 546 affordable units. Those financed by Homes and Community Renewal issued tax credits include: Watkins Glen Senior Apartments, Cobblers Square, Sherwood Landing, Highland Pointe, and Cardinal Cove. Since 1977, the firm has successfully managed over 2,885 affordable housing units in the Syracuse area.

The supportive housing residents will receive on-site services from Unity House of Cayuga County. Unity House, a non-profit organization founded in 1977, serves 700 consumers a day in Cayuga, Tompkins, Wayne, Onondaga, Seneca, and Ontario Counties. The staff provides case management services to individuals with persistent mental illness which include budgeting monthly expenses, linkages to community supports, and access to ancillary services.

The support services offered will vary depending on the needs and desires of the residents. Unity House will be moving their offices into the building. Unity House’s utilities will be separated from the residential space and will be the responsibility of Unity House.

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