City housing plan gets $6.8M from state

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarFrom right, houses at 34 West St. and at 25-27 and 23 Columbia St., photographed Tuesday, are to be demolished as part of a project by nonprofit Housing Visions, which has received approval for $6.85 million in state funding, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced Tuesday.

A nonprofit housing developer has been awarded $6.85 million in state funding for construction and rehabilitation projects in the city of Oneonta, officials said Tuesday. 

Housing Visions Consultants Inc., based in Syracuse, was awarded funding to build six structures and rehabilitate one building to create 60 affordable housing units for families and seniors, according to a media release issued Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The project is designed to create affordable housing opportunities within easy access to retail, medical services and jobs, while eliminating blight and vacant buildings.

“It’s great news,” said Oneonta city manager Martin Murphy. The funding supports significant housing projects that will improve dwelling options as well as conditions and aesthetics in neighborhoods, he said.

The project, called Oneonta Heights, includes construction of housing in the Silver Creek area, razing buildings and construction along West and Columbia streets and renovations at 63-65 Spruce St., officials said, and construction could begin late this year or early next year.

Ben Lockwood, vice president of business development at Housing Visions, said that with the state award, the Oneonta Heights project has overcome a major hurdle.

“We’re very pleased ... incredibly happy,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood said the $6.85 million from the state represents tax credits and loans. Housing Visions will seek private financing to meet the remaining costs of the project estimated at $15 million, he said.

Housing Visions, which develops affordable housing options, was founded more than 20 years ago and has coordinated and implemented the investment of more than $200 million into neighborhoods in need, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Cuomo announced more than $141 million in awards for affordable housing developments, the release said, and the low-interest loans, grants and tax credits will build or preserve 2,160 affordable apartments and are expected to leverage more than $469 million in grants, loans and private resources.

Funds were made available through New York State Homes & Community Renewal Unified Funding Application, a single-source process to access a variety of resources for affordable, multi-family development, the release said.

In March 2013, the Oneonta Housing Task Force issued a report that identified needs and some steps to address challenges. Recommendations included exploring a partnership with Housing Visions to identify and develop affordable housing options for working families and seniors. 

Gary Herzig, a task force member, said the Housing Visions effort goes back many years to the mayoral administration of John Nader. Herzig, chief operation officer at Opportunities for Otsego, said he later introduced Housing Visions programs to then-Mayor Dick Miller, who gave a “go ahead” to pursue projects.

Herzig, who plans to run as a Democrat for mayor, welcomed the announcement of state funding.

“We’ve been hoping for this decision,” Herzig said Tuesday. “It’s good news all around.”

Housing Visions officials last year presented plans to the Planning Commission for two projects, one in the Silver Creek area between West and Clinton streets and the other in the vicinity of West and Columbia streets.

The Planning Commission declared itself lead agency in the site plan review for the two Housing Visions projects, which require State Environmental Quality Review Act assessments, and gave the developer a nod to continue work on its proposals. However, further review has been on hold pending word about funding.

At a Planning Commission meeting in November, attended by about 20 residents and city officials, some speakers raised concerns about environmental and neighborhood impacts about the proposed Silver Creek development.

The two developments proposed by Housing Visions, a nonprofit company that develops housing for moderate- and low-income residents, are:

In the Silver Creek area, the proposal is to construct a 40-unit senior building and two buildings each with four row-style single-family townhouses on vacant lots.

At West and Columbia streets — razing buildings at 23 and 25-27 Columbia St. and at 34 West St. and building two four-unit dwellings, according to plans, and constructing a two-unit townhouse at 38 West St. after building demolition at that site.

Housing Visions last year bought a two-unit dwelling at 63-65 Spruce St. for $45,000 from the city of Oneonta, which acquired the property from Otsego County before it was auctioned at a tax sale.

Housing Visions plans to upgrade the Spruce Street dwelling but was awaiting results of a financing application, officials said.

Housing Visions will work with municipal officials in the months ahead to advance the projects, said Lockwood, who is scheduled to speak at the Oneonta Rotary Club luncheon meeting Thursday. Construction could begin later this year or early next year, he said.

“We look forward to the next phase,” Lockwood said.