A set of five murals, designed by local artists and representing the history of the Jefferson Avenue community, will soon adorn a pair of new affordable housing buildings that just opened north of the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion.
The vertical panels, commissioned by nonprofit People Inc. through the WNY Urban Arts Collective, will be installed on two corners of the Jefferson Avenue Apartments, at 1140 and 1166 Jefferson.
They will feature the work of five primary and two contributing artists, illustrating five central themes determined with community input, such as Juneteenth and community education.
"Our intent was to ensure that the community where the Jefferson Avenue apartments reside had input as to what would go on the buildings themselves," said Jocelyn Bos. "We're showing off the work of some of the local artists that may not even have a name for themselves yet, and the community at large gave us the categories they wanted to see."
The artists are working on the murals at another location in the city, before they are put up next month on the northeast corner of 1166 Jefferson and the southeast corner of 1140 Jefferson, facing each other on either side of Southhampton Street. Additional artwork will also be selected and purchased for the building interiors.
"Years from now, when this project is history, the community of artists involved will be part of the story for future generations," said John Baker, art director and president of the Urban Arts Collective.
The planned installation comes after People Inc. – the region's largest nonprofit social-services agency – completed and opened the $31 million complex, which features 89 affordable one- and two-bedroom rental apartments spread across two large buildings. The apartments are mostly occupied.
The buildings include 71 one-bedroom units and 18 two-bedroom apartments.
"This is nice," said Concetta Ferguson, People Inc.'s senior vice president of community-based services and housing. "I think this is an amazing apartment, and this is what all of our projects are looking like."
The apartments are reserved for those earning 50%, 60% and 90% of the area median income, ranging from $19,000 to $68,200. Also, 11 units will be assisted with HOME funds, while 16 units are reserved for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as those with mobility, visual and hearing impairments.
Of the one-bedroom apartments, 23 are available at the lowest rate of $532 per month, while 44 rent at $632 and four are set at $782. Among the two-bedroom units, four rent for $620, eight for $695 and the remaining six for $850.
"We believe that people, whether they’re at the 50%, 60% or 90%, all deserve affordable, quality, secure housing," Bos said. "There are higher-end finishes here, but that's what we believe we should have."
The project also includes 17,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, which will be occupied by Say Yes Buffalo, a small financial independence training facility operated by Northwest Bank, and a recruitment office for People Inc.
The project started in 2016, with People Inc. partnering with developer Nick Sinatra – who assembled the land in a series of deals. Contractor David Pawlik's CSS Construction began work in fall 2018, based on designs by architect Matthew Long's Long Associates. Funding came from the city, the Better Buffalo Fund, New York State Housing and Community Renewal and the state Housing Finance Agency.
The first building, at 1166 Jefferson, opened in February, while the second one opened at the end of July. As of Oct. 1, 69 of the apartments will be rented and occupied, while the rest are "spoken for," with applications already being processed and a waiting list behind them.
Bos said the agency had over 300 applications in the first wave. But she noted that applicants must be qualified and approved as eligible based on their income – a process that takes about 40 hours of work for agency staff.
The Art Mural component stemmed from a request by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown for People Inc. to incorporate art into the project. The agency last summer teamed up with the Collective to form a planning committee, and then solicited community input before selecting the mural themes last November.
The Collective then took over the job of recruiting artists and designs, but the process was delayed first by the Covid-19 pandemic and then by racial tensions that flared up across the country in recent months. Participating artists include Kobie Barber, Markenzy Julius Cesar, James Cooper III, Gino Morrow, Mark G. Pearce, Phyllis Thompson and Princessa Williams.