Building the Beloved Community: A Story of Overcoming Obstacles with Dedication and HUD Support

belovedBUILDING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
The following headline appeared on the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website on October 4, 2006.

HUD AWARDS NIAGARA FALLS HOUSING AUTHORITY$20 MILLION TO REVITALIZE AGED PUBLIC HOUSING
Center Court public housing complex and community to get facelift

In 2006, a long-time dream to revitalize Niagara Falls Housing Authority’s 63-year-old Housing complex was finally going to happen. Center Court was built in 1943, when public housing meant barrack-style units on large parcels of public space. The new housing would be designed as a community — with new streets, detached housing apartments and infrastructure. However, during the heighted excitement of a new community no one could have known the challenges and obstacles ahead.

With this funding Niagara Falls joined other cities across the country in replacing severely distressed public housing. “We felt that our residents and the city of Niagara Falls, NY deserved a community that would serve as an economic foundation for families and provide a more aesthetic-looking community to enhance the city’s landscape. We were proud that after years of working towards this goal it was finally going to happen”, stated Stephanie W. Cowart, Executive Director of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority.

centercourt

The original Center Court housing development built in 1943.

Community Collaboration
The revitalization plan received broad-based community support and input into the planning process. Input was received from residents, the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls Housing Authority staff, government officials, faith-based representatives and other stakeholders.

The Plan
The housing authority plan was to use the grant to replace all of the 134 public housing units at Center Court with 134 new public housing units. In addition, the Housing Authority’s vision in building a mixed-use community included building 106 affordable rental units, 30 affordable home ownership units and 12 market-rate home ownership units. A new community center at Center Court that would offer computer access and a library was also part of the plan.

The Obstacles
There were two major and unforeseen events that occurred almost simultaneously:
the discovery of underground ash on the site — which had to be remediated at significant cost — and a financial default from the original equity investor during the recession of 2008

2008 – Contaminated ash found at Niagara Falls housing site
2008
– U.S. Financial Crisis occurs followed by U.S. Recession
2008- Equity investor and Construction lender defaults on their financial obligation to the project

Working through the Obstacles
The two major setbacks created a dire situation, which required the realignment of budgets in order to salvage the housing project. The financial realignments were made with HUD’s full knowledge, understanding and approval of the costs, expenditures and budgetary re-classifications. The project was not only salvaged, but it became and continues to be a success.

Housing Authority Executive Director Cowart adds, “Recognizing that with all transformational change there are obstacles, we rolled up our sleeves and formulated a strategy to move forward.”

The Final Outcome

Finally in 2010, the first phase of the dream was now realty. Center Court renamed as the “Beloved Community”, consists of a modern and well designed housing offering a mix of home-ownership and low, moderate and upper income level rental units to strengthen the social and economic foundation of the community and meet the growing needs of individuals and families who want to live and work in the City of Niagara Falls.

HOPE VI project, soon to open, offers uplift and argument in Niagara Falls
Niagara Gazette
Issue Date: Sat, 2010-07-24

“People can see just by driving down the street that this is a beautiful housing project for the city,” said Linda Goodman, executive director of the developer, Norstar Development USA.

In an effort to provide a holistic approach to building a strong community, the initiative includes a comprehensive community services plan, which provides individuals and families with opportunities for job development and training, health care programs, personal and professional development, credit repair counseling, home-ownership counseling and more!