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A long-vacant house on Virginia Street is seeing new life as it is converted into five units of housing and a commercial space by Hispanics United of Buffalo.

The project is estimated to cost $396,000, with the funding coming from federal, state and city sources. Completion is scheduled for the end of May.

The three-story structure at 251 Virginia is being gutted and will provide five two-bedroom apartments for people of low to moderate income as well as a storefront commercial space.

The project began four years ago and took that long to secure the funding and prepare the plans, according to Israel Gonzalez, executive director of Hispanics United.

Public officials stressed the partnership aspect of the project during a ceremony Wednesday to mark the start of construction.

"Anytime you can add value to lives and neighborhoods" through such partnerships you "benefit all who live here," Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said Masiello based his candidacy on partnerships and seven years later has kept his promise.

He said Hispanics United, which escaped a financial crisis that threatened its survival last fall, is "vitally important to the Latino community."

Hoyt introduced Andrew Cuomo, who he said "just happened to be in the neighborhood" but as U.S. secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration helped furnish the funding without which "we probably would not be here."

Cuomo, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said the "future of Buffalo is brighter than ever" but only "by working block by block to bring back Buffalo."

Good housing remains a key building block of that effort, he said.

Thomas Van Nortwick, regional director of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, said his agency got involved in the project in 1998 and committed $300,000 and three staff members.

"It's a small project, but it has a huge impact on the community," he said.

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