An addictions recovery agency plans to turn a vacant dormitory in Buffalo that was used to treat AIDS patients into a transitional housing project.
Buffalo-based Cazenovia Recovery Systems is converting the former Benedict House on Main Street into 23 affordable studio apartments and supportive services for individuals recovering from substance abuse addictions.
It's designed for people who have already gone through inpatient rehabilitation treatment, but "need more assistance as they move toward independence," said Cazenovia spokesman Ed Cichon. Residents are expected to stay for about a year or so while they look for work, reconnect with their families or seek to return to school, he said.
"There aren't many places to go after they complete their treatment," Cichon said. "There's not a lot of assistance for them after that step."
The project at 2211 Main St. also will include housing offices and services in the basement, including relapse prevention, group and individual counseling, vocational development, connections to other programs, and other community resources.
"We hope people will get comfortable and then move out into regular apartments," Cichon said.
Cazenovia Recovery provides residential services to individuals across Erie and Niagara counties who are considered at risk for homelessness and those recovering from substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. The nonprofit agency offers intensive residential rehab, community residential services, peer-supported recovery apartments and subsidized housing through its Amherst Station Apartments, Unity House, Casa di Vita, Liberty Hall in Batavia, and other facilities.
"In the face of the opioid epidemic, these apartments will save lives and will help people adjust to independence in early recovery," said Cazenovia CEO Suzanne L. Bissonette.
Typically, a patient would move through the system from inpatient care for up to a month, to rehab for up to three months, and then to supportive living for up to six months. But that's when Cichon said there can be a gap before they return to regular life.
Cazenovia already offers apartments subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, but "this is a little bit different" because "it's one large building," he explained.
"It’s a whole continuum of care that we offer to let people move through the process of recovery in an easy and hopeful fashion," Cichon said.
Benedict House was owned and run for years by Evergreen Health Services as a facility for people suffering from AIDS, but the agency closed it in 2015.
Located on a 0.78-acre lot next to Sisters Hospital, the 110-year-old building has three floors plus a basement. It was renovated in 1996 and 1998, and is currently set up with smaller apartments or rooms that share common bathrooms and kitchens, like a college dorm.
Cazenovia bought the vacant building from Evergreen earlier this year for $1, plus the assumption of an $895,000 mortgage, and is now spending $4.62 million on the renovation and conversion of the three residential floors to individual apartments, each with their own bathroom and kitchen, as well as a living area and bedroom. Laundry facilities will also be available on each floor.
The units will range from 390 to 460 square feet in size, and will rent for the fair market rate of $658 per month or less, including utilities. Cazenovia uses Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative funds to subsidize the rents and help residents with their employment goals.
The project, which already received a zoning variance and other city approvals, will be funded by the New York State Homeless Housing Assistance Program, which previously supported Benedict House.
The property currently has 14 parking spaces, but Cazenovia wants to add another eight. Because of its status as a local landmark, its request will be reviewed by the Preservation Board on Dec. 6. If approved, officials hope to start construction in January and open by the end of 2019.