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Rochester nonprofit wants to turn Buffalo's School 78 into low-income housing

A suburban Rochester nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and development disabilities has been selected by the City of Buffalo to redevelop a former East Side school into a 48-unit affordable housing apartment building.

CDS Monarch, based in Webster, beat out four other proposals to win a recommendation by the city's Office of Strategic Planning as the "best-qualified candidate" and designated developer for School 78. Built in 1927 and located on 1.8 acres at 321 Olympic Ave., it most recently housed a Montessori school program within the Buffalo Public Schools before it closed.

If approved by the Common Council, CDS Monarch will work with Western New York Independent Living to convert the three-story building into a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments aimed at low-income tenants.

According to the designated-developer resolution pending before the Council, 38 of the units will be reserved for families earning between 50 percent and 60 percent of the area median income, while 10 units will be set aside for individuals with developmental disabilities who earn up to 30 percent of the local income benchmark.

The building will also include on-site offices for both CDS and Western New York Independent Living, which will provide programs and services for residents. The $16.4 million project also will feature a community room, a computer room, an exercise room and tenant storage areas, the Council resolution says.

CDS helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – as well as their families – with life planning and transition support to enable them to build independent lives in their communities.

The nonprofit opened its first community residence in August 1978, and now owns and operates 28 residential facilities in Monroe and Wayne counties, with specialized and supervised apartments, retirement senior housing and transitional veteran housing.

Led by CEO Sankar Sewnauth, the organization works with more than 1,700 people, and offers day services, community services and employment training. It also works with partner agencies to offer physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, transitions classes, and other programs. Its affiliate, CDS Housing, builds affordable housing for its clients, as well as seniors, families and veterans.

So when the city issued a request for proposals to redevelop School 78, CDS was one of five organizations that responded, citing its past experience. The submissions were evaluated by a committee that included representatives of the community, and looked at the quality of each plan, project readiness, proposed participation by minority-owned and women-owned businesses, the experience and qualifications of each organization, financial issues and likelihood of completion.

According to the designated-developer resolution, the project cost – which includes the purchase of the building for at least $450,000, based on an appraisal – will be funded by a mix of state and federal dollars that CDS will seek. That could include capital funding from the state Office of Housing and Community Renewal, low-income housing tax credits, federal and state historic tax credits, New York State Housing Trust Funds and permanent financing from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

The developer will not request any funding from the city, aside from a standard property tax break through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for qualified projects, the resolution said.

CDS also agreed to secure the financing by May 2019, close by September 2019, and complete construction by the end of December 2020. And it agreed to pursue the city's standard goals of participation by minorities and women in the project.

Under the terms of the agreement, the designated-developer status will last for 12 months, and CDS must pay a $1,000 fee each month to the city, which will be applied toward the purchase price if CDS and the city agree to a sales contract within a year. During the designation, the developer must file monthly progress reports and evidence of financing, and must also submit a formal site plan to the city for approval.

The designated developer agreement was recommended by the Council's Community Development Committee earlier this week, and will be considered by the full Council at its Sept. 18 meeting.

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