A friendship sparked after two Pennsylvania State University alumni met at a college football game years ago has brought the Buffalo Sabres together with a local nonprofit housing agency to convert a former YMCA on Buffalo’s East Side into affordable housing for single mothers who are military veterans.
The Buffalo Sabres Foundation, the team’s charitable arm, is teaming up with Saving Grace Ministries and True Community Development Corp. on a $2.7 million renovation. It will feature 16 low-income apartments for veterans, plus a first-floor community center and recreational space for inner-city youth that will be operated by the Resource Council of Western New York.
Rents will be set on a sliding scale, based on income. The one- and two-bedroom units are designed for families at or below 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.
“This project represents a historic partnership between the Buffalo Sabres and two agencies that have long-standing ties to Buffalo’s East Side,” said the Rev. Terry J. King, CEO of Saving Grace Ministries. “We are grateful for this opportunity to provide affordable housing to those who have served our country, as well as their families.”
The new Patriot Heights Apartment Project at 347 E. Ferry St. will take the historic former Humboldt YMCA – one of the earliest African-American YMCAs built in the city – and put it back to a neighborhood use.
“We are proud to be a partner in this important project that will help Buffalo’s military veterans in such a profound way,” said Clifford G. Benson, the Sabres’ chief development officer, and president of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. The project, which was already approved by the city, is a new venture for Saving Grace, which traditionally provides housing and services to homeless paroled convicts. It stems from the ties between King and Benson that grew over the last eight years, especially after Benson came to Buffalo with Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and as their organizations talked. “We were all like-minded and visionary about trying to help,” King said. “We can’t solve all the homeless problem, but we can make a dent in it.”
Besides the apartments, the building still includes a swimming pool, workout facility, track and gymnasium, and King said that other programs will be announced at a later date. The Sabres also obtained a grant from the National Hockey League to construct two floor-hockey rinks, one next door to Patriot Heights and one on the city’s West Side.
Benson said that there may be as many as 200 homeless female veterans with children in Western New York.
“People don’t really know what’s going on with our vets, and they are starting to get awareness,” he said. “A lot of information has come out in the last couple of years on homeless vets.”
Saving Grace bought the property from social services agency Gateway-Longview on May 27, with financial support from the Sabres and other equity partners – including First Niagara Financial Group, the John W. Danforth Co., National Fuel Gas Co., BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, New Era Cap Co., and Kaleida Health – as well as funding from the city’s HOME Investment Partnership Program.
The nonprofit and the Sabres also worked with CSS Construction, which has already been active in other East Side development, including a residential project next door with Second Chance Ministry and the $7 million, 30-unit Bellamy Commons around the corner on Jefferson Avenue, with Herbert L. Bellamy Jr. and Belmont Shelter.
“This is going to be an exciting project,” said David E. Pawlik, CSS president. “It’s another example of the catalyst of what’s going on in Buffalo.”