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Project portends revitalized North End Schumer heads list of dignitaries at groundbreaking for new homes

A $72 million public housing project in the downtrodden north end of Niagara Falls was seen by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Monday as a precursor for regional revitalization.

"This program is a metaphor for Western New York," Schumer said, referring to the federal Housing and Urban Development's Hope VI grant program. "It tells us one thing: Don't give up on revitalizing the region we all love."

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the 282 mixed-income units at Center Court was held inside the Niagara Falls Housing Authority's Doris W. Jones Family Resource Building on Ninth Street.

Joining Schumer on the dais were HUD Deputy Secretary Roy Bernardi, a former mayor of Syracuse; Stephanie W. Cowart, the housing authority's executive director; State Sen. Antoine M. Thompson, D-Buffalo, whose district includes Niagara Falls and Buffalo; Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston; Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello; Niagara County Legislator Renae Kimble; and other local and regional civic leaders.

"The Hope VI program is just what the doctor ordered for Niagara Falls," Schumer said before a packed auditorium. "It is a testament to the resilience and devotion of the people who want to rejuvenate this neighborhood."

After five years of trying, Schumer succeeded in securing a $20 million Hope VI grant from HUD -- one of only four awarded nationwide last year.

"We were rejected time and time again," he said, as he recounted "the trials and tribulations we went through."

Schumer had high praise for Cowart, "who put her heart and soul into this."

The housing authority first applied for the grant in 2003, Bernardi said. He credited Schumer's persistence over the years for the final approval.

Construction of the first phase of the 115 new homes and a new administration building will begin in January and take 18 to 24 months, said Linda L. Goodman, a director of Norstar Development, which was hired by the housing authority to oversee the project.

Together with the new housing, Center Court residents will receive expanded health, social and case management services. Housing authority officials hope the quality-of-life improvements will give residents the opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency by moving from welfare to work, and buying new homes.

The landscaped project will include townhouse duplexes and single-family bungalows, with a variety of rental units and houses geared toward homeownership.

The new homes will have their own yards and parking spaces, replacing the existing parking lots.

The project ultimately will replace 65-year-old apartments in functionally obsolete buildings at Center Court, a neighborhood described by officials as "severely distressed."

The second phase will include 25 affordable rental units and four market-rate homes on housing authority land in the LaSalle neighborhood in the South End of Niagara Falls.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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