NIAGARA FALLS – A Rochester-based not-for-profit and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center want to partner on a $13.5 million project to build 50 apartments for veterans at the site of the recently demolished 39th Street School.
Plans for the project, proposed for about 3.5 acres of the eight-acre site between Walnut and Ferry avenues, just west of Packard Road, call for an independent living campus that provides easier access to medical and veterans services.
One of its main goals would be to keep its residents from falling through the cracks of the health care system by eliminating the need for individuals to visit multiple sites for services.
DePaul Properties would give preference for the housing to veterans, who are among a large group of people in Niagara Falls who lack stable, quality housing, officials from both organizations said.
DePaul would operate the housing, while Memorial would provide care coordinators on site to connect residents with services, like primary or behavioral care, nutritional or social support or obtaining veterans’ benefits.
In Niagara County, the project would be the first of its kind.
“The idea here is to provide a campus that not only encourages independent living, but Niagara Falls Memorial would also provide case-management, care-coordination services on campus so that we could help coordinate their needs,” said Joseph A. Ruffolo, Memorial’s president and chief executive officer.
The project, which was initiated by Ruffolo reaching out to DePaul, would create five or six permanent jobs. Plans call for 46 one-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom units, with the one-bedroom units set up with 650 to 700 square feet of floor space. Approximate sizes for the two-bedroom apartments were not available. The facility would have a community room and space for one-on-one meetings between care and service providers and residents. It also would have an outdoor courtyard.
Officials targeted the proposed site, which is city-owned and saw the former school sit vacant for around 30 years until it was demolished last year, because of available greenspace and proximity to public transportation, Hyde Park, the Pine Avenue business district and Gill Creek Park, Ruffolo said.
Memorial, which is looking to reduce the financial penalties it faces from the state and federal governments when patients receive recurring care in the emergency room, could do this type of project five times, the need is so large, he said.
Potential residents must fall within an annual income threshold for the Falls of about $22,000, or 60 percent of the area’s median income. If residents’ income increases during the time they live at the complex, they will not be forced to leave.
Rent payments would cover all utilities, air conditioning, a flat-screen television, cable and wi-fi. DePaul would seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the county, and the project budget foresees bond funding and capital funding from the state Office of Mental Health.
The facility, which already has approval from the state office, would include on-site security and a security camera system, and would be designed to fit into the neighborhood, said Gillian J. Conde, DePaul’s vice president. The resource center on the campus will be open to the public, not just the residents.
“The veterans’ and supported housing is incredibly needed in this community,” Conde said.
Memorial would provide a shuttle from the apartment complex to its medical campus a short drive away.
DePaul, which operates housing for special needs groups along with mental health and vocational programs, earlier this year opened the 68-unit Riverside Apartments at the former School 60, or Riverside Academy, in Buffalo. Most of the residents of that property, which also provides low-income apartments, come from a vulnerable segment of the population receiving mental health services. The organization also operates properties in Batavia, Rochester, and North and South Carolina.
DePaul screens potential clients for their criminal and financial history, and does not offer housing to convicted felons or sex offenders, Conde said.
The project sponsors already reached out to block club leaders, veterans groups and other stakeholders and pledged to continue their dialogue with the community as plans take shape, with a stakeholder advisory board to be established.
The property, which is already zoned for residential use, has been remediated and is nearly shovel-ready, said Seth A. Piccirillo, head of the city’s Department of Community Development. The city must execute a disposition agreement in order to transfer the property, which requires City Council approval. Specific construction plans require the approval of the Planning Board.
Earl Schmidt, of the Niagara County Veterans Service Agency, called the project “a great idea” that would address a real need.
“There’s nothing like this in the county,” Schmidt said.