By Steve Dwyer
To many in a local community, the former brownfield properties are the “disaster” from which to “recover.”
But when a disaster actually strikes a local community, the former brownfield properties kind of blend in with the rest of the havoc that’s been wreaked on the community.
The point of all this? The city of Binghamton, N.Y. is turning a very long and twisting corner with the commencing of construction in January that, in the end, will amount to a $20.5-million affordable housing development at Canal Plaza, which is part of a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) and is being partly funded by equity raised by New York State Brownfield tax credits.
DEC commissioner Basil Seggos recently said that “the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program is a powerful tool for putting blighted areas back into productive use, and we are proud to partner on the Canal Plaza project that is building on the momentum to revitalize Binghamton’s North Side and strengthen this community for future generations.”
The project is poised to deliver 48 apartments and new commercial space and it’s being built on a former brownfield—at the same time responding to a regional need for quality and affordable housing, as this initiative also includes 12 apartments intended to provide supportive services for New Yorkers with mental illness.
In summer of 2011, a large portion of the city of Binghamton found itself in catastrophe mode in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which then was compounded by a tropical storm that produced mass flooding. About 7 ½ years later, the city is implementing its vision to create a more resilient community, according to city leaders.
This project delivers on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s promise to bring quality affordable housing opportunities to this city in addition to creating essential support services to its north side.
The city of Binghamton has been working for years to get to this point by acquiring a tax-foreclosed property from Broome County, landing $534,000 in grant funds to demolish a blighted plaza and render it shovel ready, tackling environmental site issues and now finally securing tax credit financing to begin construction.
The 2011 impacts started with Hurricane Irene before the tropical storm added additional hardship on this city of 45,000 situated south of Syracuse and west of Albany. “Building new affordable homes is an essential ingredient to creating opportunity and revitalizing our cities,” Gov. Cuomo recently said. “With the addition of Canal Plaza, we are creating affordable housing opportunities while providing services that support our vulnerable neighbors as we work to ensure that the Southern Tier continues to soar.”
Canal Plaza is being constructed in the Waterfront Revitalization Plan Area and also sits in the North Chenango River Corridor BOA. Canal Plaza will provide housing to low-, very low- and extremely low-income households. Social services will be administered on-site to tenants of the supportive housing units.
The project is being supported by a variety of funding and financing sources, including $1.1 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funding from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. New York State Homes and Community Renewal is providing federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits that will generate more than $12.8 million for the development, and $1.3 million from HCR’s Housing Trust Fund Corp.
It is also receiving $2 million from the Rural and Urban Community Investment Fund, nearly $2.3 million in equity raised by brownfield tax credits allocated by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), $100,000 from city of Binghamton HOME and a $48,000 incentive grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The development will additionally include three commercial suites totaling 15,000 square feet, with one of the suites occupied by Catholic Charities of Broome County for the operation of Encompass Health Home, which will deliver assistance to Medicaid-eligible adults and children with chronic medical and/ or behavioral health conditions.
It’s been a long road back for this community, and it illustrates the protracted process of disaster recovery. In that summer of 2011, Tropical Storm Lee stalled over the Southern Tier and dropped more than 11 inches of rain during a 24-hour period. Flash flooding damaged homes, businesses and infrastructure. High groundwater levels caused basements and ground floors of homes, businesses and municipal facilities to flood, even though those structures were behind levees. And flooding closed many critical roads, leaving residents with no access to medical facilities, supplies or emergency services.
President and founder of 3D Development Group Bruce Levine noted that the city has been making significant investments in the North Side neighborhood “and Canal Plaza will further the revitalization. The collaborative effort between HCR, DEC, the city of Binghamton and the development team is what took this project from a concept to where we are today with the groundbreaking.”
For years, residents of Binghamton have voiced concern about the shortage of affordable housing options, so the redevelopment vision completely reflects the community consensus.
Binghamton mayor Richard David made a commitment to focus on new affordable housing projects that would provide safe, quality living environments for families. “It’s the key to stabilizing neighborhoods and Binghamton’s continued revitalization. This project will have a transformative impact on the city’s North Side, anchoring and supporting redevelopment on the State Street commercial corridor and beyond,” he said.