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Erie County IDA approves restrictions for senior housing tax breaks

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday approved a new policy that would place additional restrictions on tax breaks for senior housing projects, especially those that would build market-rate apartments aimed at middle- and upper-class seniors.

The IDA, which approved the policy with only Amherst Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein voting against it, adopted a series of nine guidelines on what types of senior housing projects could be eligible for tax breaks and which ones would not. The policy is the latest attempt by IDAs to tackle the often controversial topic of how to handle market-rate housing for senior citizens.

The policy applies only to the Erie County IDA and the municipalities it serves, but it is expected to be considered by the five other suburban IDAs in Erie County in the coming weeks. The Amherst IDA is expected to discuss the policy at its meeting on Friday. For the policy to take effect in Amherst, Concord, Lancaster, Hamburg and Clarence, all of which have their own IDAs, the policy would have to be approved by those individual agencies.

The policy covers for-profit senior citizen housing projects where at least 90 percent of the units are rented to people who are at least 60 years old. The policy does not cover low-income, subsidized housing projects, which are eligible for incentives under different state laws, upscale senior housing projects, or “life care communities.”

The policy favors projects with a significant portion of the population within a one-to-five-mile radius at or below median income levels, and developments that offer amenities and services that aren’t available at other nearby senior housing. The ability of the developer to finance the project is another factor, as is whether it will be targeted toward – and at least half-occupied by – seniors whose income is at or below 60 to 80 percent of the county median income.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the income guidelines would be the most important criteria under the ECIDA’s evaluation process. He said the need for senior apartment complexes will grow as the region’s population ages, and that having affordable housing for those residents could allow them to remain in their communities as they grow older, rather than forcing them to move to other communities where suitable housing is more available.

“We should not be inducing market-rate or above market-rate housing of any type,” Poloncarz said.

A project would be regarded more favorably if it has the written backing of local municipal officials and if it is located within the community’s central area and falls within its master plan. Projects also would be evaluated favorably if they would help create walkable neighborhoods and if an independent market study shows a need within a particular neighborhood or community.

The policy does not say how many of the criteria must be met for a project to be eligible for approval, instead leaving that up to the discretion of the IDA’s directors.

Weinstein said he opposes tax breaks for any type of market-rate housing, including projects aimed at senior citizens, calling the nine criteria included in the policy “arbitrary and capricious.”

email: drobinson@buffnews.com