Planner touts Old Snell housing renovation

JASON HUNTER n WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES Clarkson University's Snell Hall in downtown Potsdam.

POTSDAM — Less than a month ago, a Missouri housing development company was awarded $5.6 million in grant funding from the state for the renovation of Clarkson University’s Old Snell Hall into 59 affordable housing apartments.

And while that has been touted as a feather in the cap for the village during its application for $10 million in grant money as part of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, is additional housing something the village needs?

Frederick J. Hanss, Potsdam’s planning and development director, says yes.

“One of the things that you have to bear in mind is that they have applied for funding that is very, very difficult and highly competitive,” Mr. Hanss said Monday morning, referring to the Vecino Group, from Springfield, Mo., that is doing the renovation. “Part of that had to do with documenting that there was a strong market demand for those units.”

Additionally, Vecino commissioned a professional market study that indicated that there was sufficient demand for the 58 units. The 59th unit will house a building superintendent.

“Where the rubber hits the road is, could they convince the state of New York that there was a positive demand for these units. They obviously did that,” Mr. Hanss said.

Vecino Group President Rick Manzardo said the area hasn’t seen new affordable housing in a long while and that the north country struggles to get affordable housing.

“A lot of developers don’t want to go up there, especially compared to different regions of New York. It’s sparsely populated in comparison,” he said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “You don’t have a lot of centers of population, so it makes it difficult to go in there and do a larger project like this. Going into Potsdam, we knew that it’s been quite a while since they have had an affordable project of any size. Basically a multi-family development. It’s not really occurring there like it is in other communities.”

Old Snell is an “anchor” that is “under utilized” in the area, he said.

“We knew if we could go in there and make something happen there with housing, with the renovation of the theatre, with the St. Lawrence Arts in there, we knew it would be a real boost to the community and for the 59 housing units, one superintendent unit, 58 affordable housing units, that’s key,” he said. “To us, we had no concerns over filling those. We knew the demand was there. I think the region is going to enjoy this project. It’s going to be a difference maker for the community.”

Measures that show that the town and village were ripe for this kind of affordable housing project included the approximate 32 percent of the households that live below the federal poverty line, Mr. Hanss said, putting those people below 60 percent of the county median.

Moreover, he said 61 percent of the village’s population qualifies for federal housing assistance of other kinds, so they have incomes below 80 percent of the county median, which he said is established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annually.

“So you got all of these measures that say the Potsdam community, village and town, have a fairly high percentage of low- to moderate-income people,” Mr. Hanss said. “It’s an economically challenged area, so programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit hope to provide people in the community with a higher standing of living.

Every low-income housing project in the village of Potsdam over the last 15 years has had tax credits associated with them. That includes the burned out 51-57 Market St., Evergreen Park located behind SeaComm Plaza, the Mayfield Apartments, on May Road, which Mr. Hanss said was going through an approximately $22 million renovation, and Debra Drive Apartments out on Lawrence Avenue.

“They’re being purchased by an investment group down in Washington D.C. and they’re using federal low-income housing tax credits, so it’s a program that gets used quite a bit and that’s what we’re seeing at Old Snell,” he said.

But one thing Mr. Manzardo wanted to dispel was the stereotype that affordable housing would equate to occupants who wouldn’t be contributing members of the community.

“With affordable housing, there are income limits, people think of the ‘70s, the Section 8 (housing) where people bring vouchers and just live in there, don’t work and don’t add anything to the community. That’s a very stereotypical view,” Mr. Manzardo said. “With this housing, this is Section 42 low-income housing, so you do have to have an income. They’re your teachers, your firefighters, your service sector employees that will go out there, spend money and add to the community.”

Studio apartments will range in monthly rent from $504 to $647, one bedrooms from $560 to $691, and two bedrooms from $656 to $831.

Renovations area scheduled to begin in December and are expected to be completed after 18 months.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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