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People Inc. opens affordable housing in Tonawanda

Social services agency People Inc. this week unveiled its newest low-income housing project with additional support for clients, after completing the adaptive-reuse and conversion of a former school in the City of Tonawanda.

The $10.5 million Highland School Apartments at 105 Highland Ave. offers 38 new affordable apartments in a three-story building that dates back a century.

The renovated building features 35 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments, all of which are handicapped-adaptable. Ten of the units are designated specifically for developmentally disabled adults, including four for individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Five other units are designated for homeless adults with traumatic brain injuries. The building was also modified to include safety features, a community and activity room and on-site laundry.

"This integrated living community project offers a unique opportunity to revitalize a vacant building, improve neighborhood appeal and provide much needed housing," Rhonda Frederick, People Inc. president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "Not only can we help people in our community live affordably without the burden of maintaining a home, but we can do so in a way that benefits the surrounding community."

Originally constructed in the 1920s, the school operated for decades before closing in 2009. The empty building was acquired by the nonprofit agency in a 2011 auction. Its affiliate, People Community Housing Development Corporation, received approval for the conversion project in 2015.

Rents will range from $533 to $866 per month, and are designed to be affordable for households with incomes at or below 70 percent of the area median income, according to a state press release. Tenants moved in this summer.

Additionally, People Inc. will provide support to the tenants with special needs, including coordination of services, independent-living skills training, day and residential habitation, employment training, medical services, recreational facilities, and transportation to appointments, programs and employment.

"This is a truly collaborative effort that gives a vacant school a new lease on life and provides a home for those who otherwise might struggle to afford one," Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a written statement.

Besides an investment from People Inc., the project was funded with $2.4 million in state HOME funds, as well as $432,672 in low-income housing tax credits from New York State Homes and Community Renewal, which will generate more than $4.2 million in equity. Another $39,207 in state low-income tax credits will generate another $218,000 in equity.

Other funding included $1.9 million from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance's Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, $1.4 million in loans from KeyBank, and ongoing housing subsidies from the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities. The project also received $76,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, plus money from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.

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