Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 5, 2013

welcome home

By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Partners in the development of Lockport Canal Homes gathered Thursday to celebrate the rebirth of community.

Technically, the event at Genesee and Pine streets was a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion of Housing Visions’ first home-building project in Lockport.

But for the dozens of people who attended, from Syracuse-based Housing Visions, Lockport Neighborhood Revitalization Inc., the YWCA of Niagara, City Hall, supporting state agencies, the private sector and the immediate neighborhood, it’s not the end of a nine-house/30-apartment-unit construction project that warrants a celebration.

It’s the effect that construction has had on a three-block area once considered the seediest place in the city.

The return on Housing Visions’ $8.6 million investment is equal parts cosmetic and psychological. One here, two there, along and around Genesee Street between Pine and Washburn streets, battered old tenements have been replaced by Victorian-esque new apartment houses and a community center.

Twenty-eight units are now occupied, by low- to moderate-income tenants who all passed Housing Visions’ rigorous background checks. The last two units, 155 and 157 Genesee, are tentatively spoken for and now there’s a waiting list for LCH housing, according to property manager Robin McCowen.

“These apartments are being filled as soon as they’re constructed,” she said. “Interest in them has grown as people see that we did what we said we would do.”

Ribbon-cutting honors went to LCH resident Donna Lehan and her children, Sarah and Tyler, who moved into a unit on Genesee Street this past November, from the YWCA of Niagara-operated Carolyn’s House in Niagara Falls. Through the YWCA’s partnership with Housing Visions, 9 of the 30 units are dedicated permanently as housing for women and children recovering from domestic crisis.

Lehan said it’s a privilege to have been selected as an LCH resident.

“I love it here. Everything’s new, everything’s clean, energy efficient. ... People can get a new start here, and hopefully can get involved in the community,” she said.

With the rise of Lockport Canal Homes, Waterman Street homeowner Dave McCowen said he’s seeing his neighbors invest more in home improvements. He’s guardedly optimistic the development will inspire others to try keeping up with the Joneses.

“It’s a good shot in the arm,” he said. “The neighborhood is changing (but) there are still some people who doubt the good (feeling) will last.”

Local preservationists are applauding Housing Visions’ work rebuilding 155 Genesee St., a 140-year-old brick house that the agency originally proposed to rehabilitate and later realized it could not.

The rebuild is nearly the spitting image of the original, from the columned front and side porches to the bay windows that give it a grand-old-house feel. The only thing that’s different is it’s now clearly a two-family home. The units have separate entrances, one on each porch, elegantly numbered 155 and 157.

“It’s wonderful. It personifies that period, and at the same time it works with the neighborhood as it is today, “ City Historian Margaret Truax said. “It satisfies everybody.”

Before the ribbon cutting, development partners gathered in the chapel at Christ Community Church, formerly First Baptist Church at Genesee and Pine streets, for a prayer and remarks about the project. Together they told a story about collaboration — about the unusual partnerships of human services agents and bankers, of volunteers and bureaucrats, of local preservationists and like-minded strangers in Syracuse and Albany  — getting the job done.

No one partner can take the lion’s share of credit for Lockport Canal Homes, not even Housing Visions, its development director Ben Lockwood said.

Without the YWCA, the project wouldn’t have gotten crucial support from state housing-related agencies. 

Key Bank and Enterprise Community Investment Inc. raised the bulk of the cash that was needed for construction.

The City of Lockport helped Housing Visions acquire a couple of parcels in the development, and made the whole thing property tax-exempt for 20 years to help keep maintenance costs down. 

Christ Community Church played a significant role in LCH as well, Lockwood said, by hosting neighborhood meetings, opening its kitchen to feed construction contractors and, since the first apartments were let, preparing “welcome baskets” for every new tenant.

“This is an example of a collaboration that went right,” YWCA Executive Director Kathleen Granchelli said.

Housing Visions is open to a second housing project in Lockport, sometime in the future, Lockwood confirmed Thursday. The agency presently is working with the YWCA and the City of Niagara Falls on a possible development near Carolyn’s House, a Y-operated shelter for homeless women and children.