For years, the tenants at Shoreline Apartments on Niagara Street were told ongoing redevelopment at their low-income housing complex would be done in three phases, and that existing tenants would seamlessly move from their existing apartments into newly built ones.
But suddenly, the plan changed. Some 175 families were recently told they need to be out of their apartments by November. The three-phase plan is now a two-phase plan.
The apartments the residents are now living in will be demolished. When the new units are built, the tenants were told, they can reapply for one of the new apartments which, like the current ones, will serve low-income tenants.
Over 100 Shoreline tenants – mostly elderly or disabled, and many expressing fear of not being able to find a new home – attended a meeting Monday evening sponsored by Shoreline’s owner, Norstar Development USA. The meeting was held in City Hall, down the street from Shoreline, to accommodate the size of the crowd. But city officials did not sponsor or participate in the meeting.
Tenants addressed Norstar officials, most saying six months isn’t enough time for them to find an affordable apartment.
“It’s not fair,” said Jose Martinez, who moved to Shoreline less than two years ago.
“What will they do if people don’t find an apartment?” asked another Shoreline tenant, Roy Gilbert.
Gilbert said he’s contacted numerous housing complexes in Buffalo serving low-income people. The waiting lists are as long as two years, he said.
Other tenants recounted similar experiences.
“I have nowhere to go,” one tenant told Norstar officials.
“Most of the places I contacted are too expensive or not taking applicants,” said another tenant.
Norstar vice president Linda L. Goodman assured the residents that Norstar will work with residents to find them a new place to live. Norstar will also help with their moving expenses, she said.
“We are going to help everybody find another affordable housing.”
Residents – some who said they have lived in the Shoreline Apartments for 20 or 30 years – wanted to know why Norstar can’t delay the project a year to give tenants more time to find a new place to live.
“An opportunity has come up,” Goodman told the tenants. “The state budget has a lot of resources in it.”
Goodman was referring to additional money in the 2016-17 state budget earmarked for affordable housing throughout New York.
Goodman also said the buildings are in terrible shape, and it’s preferable that tenants not spend another winter in them.
Goodman said Norstar has filed an initial application for state funding, but state officials at the meeting said the final application must include a temporary and permanent relocation plan.
“We will not proceed – and they can’t do anything without our money – until they submit a relocation plan that is acceptable to our agency, a plan that convinces us all the issues raised are addressed,” said Leonard Skrill, assistant commissioner with the state Homes and Community Renewal office.
Also attending Monday’s meeting was Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who said the Council will be getting involved on behalf of the tenants.
“How do you screw up a process like this?” Franczyk asked of Norstar. “The residents are the first ones you have to keep in mind.”
Shoreline is in Franczyk’s Council district.