The wisdom of adaptively reusing historic buildings and redeveloping brownfields to create affordable and supportive housing

The past month saw three communities in the state of New York either complete or launch projects that create new affordable and/or supportive by adaptively reusing historic buildings, and by cleaning and redeveloping industrial brownfields.

The projects are all part of Governor kathy Hochul’s statewide plan to make housing more affordable, equitable, and stable.

In the recently enacted State Budget, the Governor successfully secured a new $25 billion, five-year, comprehensive housing plan that will increase housing supply by creating or preserving 100,000 affordable homes across New York, including 10,000 with support services for vulnerable populations, plus the electrification of an additional 50,000 homes.

North Tonawanda

the completion of a $3.5 million supportive housing project in downtown North Tonawanda in Niagara County. Supported through the Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, the adaptive reuse of the structure at 49 Tremont St. created 12 units of affordable housing, including eight studio apartments with on-site supportive services to help women who have experienced homelessness and are survivors of domestic violence.

Located across from Historic Riviera Theatre, 49 Tremont St. is within walking distance of the downtown area of North Tonawanda. The project substantially overhauled the more-than-a-century-old structure, converting a former gymnasium into studio apartments and adding a ground floor café, which will provide residents with on-site workforce training and employment opportunities.

The project received $1.4 million from the Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, which is administered by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. In addition, OTDA will provide operating funding for the supportive services via the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative.

Empire State Development President CEO & Commissioner Hope Knight said, “The redevelopment of this former YWCA facility into a safe, welcoming home for women will provide them with a stable and supportive environment and access to valuable services. Further, the adaptive reuse of this YWCA is a critical component of economic development, requiring a strong plan and partnerships between many levels of government, private and non-profit sectors. I am proud that ESD could play a role in this vital project.

The New York State Homes and Community Renewal provided $1.7 million in funding through the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Program and Rural and Urban Community Investment Fund, which leveraged funds from the Homeless Housing Assistance Program, New York Main Street, the Yahoo Foundation, and developer equity. Empire State Development also provided $300,000 for the project through the Smart Growth Community Fund and $33,000 via Verizon Media Community Benefit Fund for Niagara County.


July also saw the completion of a $26.2 million mixed-income, mixed-use housing development in downtown Oswego. Harbor View Square features 75 apartments and over 10,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The development replaced an underutilized city-owned Brownfield site located at the convergence of the Oswego River and Lake Ontario. Harbor View Square connects Oswego’s downtown to its waterfront and is a priority project of the city of Oswego’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “Harbor View Square is a truly transformative development for Oswego’s growing and increasingly lively downtown. By replacing a long-vacant manufacturing site with 75 new homes and retail space, we are creating new opportunities for residents to enjoy all that Oswego has to offer. Downtown Oswego’s upward trajectory relies on smart developments like this one that provide quality homes and make the city a more diverse, affordable, and beautiful place to live.

Encompassing an entire city block, Harbor View Square consists of a five-story building with 57 apartments and 18 two-story townhomes. Forty-eight apartments are affordable to households earning at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income. Eighteen apartments are affordable to households earning up to 90 percent of the AMI. Nine apartments are rented at the market rate. Within the development, there are 11 fully accessible, fully adapted apartments for individuals with a physical disability or traumatic brain injury.

Residential amenities include a fitness center, rooftop terrace, resident lounge, bike room, and conference room. Harbor View Square is within walking distance of Lake Ontario’s shorefront, downtown attractions, retail, and restaurants.

The development’s location at 68 West First Street is the former home of Flexo Wire, a nationwide wire manufacturer and distributor. The long-vacant property underwent remediation and cleanup under New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program prior to construction. The developer for this project is Housing Visions.

State financing for Harbor View Square included federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits that generated $8.5 million in equity and $9.8 million in subsidy from New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

The site was successfully remediated through the Department of Environmental Conservation‘s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which is expected to result in $4.7 million in tax credits upon the project’s completion. The development was awarded $1.5 million from Empire State Development’s Restore NY program and the Department of State awarded $740,000 from Oswego’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, with the award administered by HCR. Additional financing was provided by the Leviticus Fund.

The City of Oswego was awarded $10 million in 2016 through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a statewide strategy to boost local economies and create vibrant urban centers where people want to live and work.

Oswego Mayor William J. Barlow said, “I applaud Housing Visions on completing and opening the new Harbor View Square property. It was a pleasure working with Housing Visions as this project was a key component to our downtown revitalization work by developing an underutilized brownfield site and introducing high quality and affordable housing units to the Oswego market. The community is extremely proud of the final product and we are proud to have included Harbor View Square in our portfolio of new, downtown developments.

Harbor View Square addresses several goals identified in Oswego’s DRI plan, including creating new residential opportunities and strengthening the vibrancy of downtown, and connecting downtown Oswego to its waterfront. To build on the success of the DRI statewide, earlier today Governor Hochul announced $100 million in funding for NY Forward, a new program aimed at rejuvenating smaller and rural communities, and Round 6 of the DRI.


A bit earlier, on June 22, 2022, construction began on the $67 million rehabilitation and modernization of Olbiston Apartments in Utica, New York. This historic redevelopment will undergo extensive renovations after the City of Utica shut it down last year due to severe safety concerns at the 124-year-old building. The redesigned building will contain 153 safe, energy-efficient affordable apartments.

The restoration of Olbiston Apartments is an example of the difference we can make in the lives of New Yorkers when we work together to replace dilapidated structures with safe and affordable homes,” Governor Hochul said. “Renovations to the Olbiston Apartments will rescue a historic gem and retain a critical supply of affordable housing, while also helping us achieve our goals for green, sustainable buildings and more vibrant downtowns.

The Romanesque Revival style building originally opened in 1898 as the largest apartment building in Upstate New York and was later subdivided multiple times during the 20th century. By the 1970s, the building had begun to deteriorate and was left to further decay. In 2021, residents were evacuated after an inspection revealed unsafe conditions in the building including extensive water damage on the upper floors due to a damaged roof, broken windows, fire systems not working properly, and other code violations.

The gut rehabilitation will reconfigure and modernize all of the complex’s apartments while retaining the building’s historic character including original, century-old marble floors and decorative wood trim in common areas.

Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of New York’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said, “The Olbiston Apartments project shows how historic preservation is breathing new life into cities like Utica. The Historic Tax Credit program is attracting reinvestment in historic structures, which helps lift local economies, expand housing, promote sustainability and preserve the heritage of our cities and towns.

When complete, the Olbiston Apartments will offer 34 studio apartments, 87 one-bedroom units, and 32 two-bedroom units, with new appliances in all units, a 1,500-square-foot community space, a new roof deck, on-site laundry facilities, storage areas throughout the building, and outdoor green space. All 153 apartments will be affordable to households earning at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income.

The building’s redesign will achieve Energy Star and Enterprise Green Communities certifications by utilizing several energy-efficiency measures, including a new roof membrane with increased insulation, cold climate heat pumps with high energy efficiency ratings for heating and cooling for all apartments, a centralized hot-water system provided by 98% efficiency boilers, building-wide LED lighting, and Energy Star rated or equivalent appliances. The developer for this project is Liberty Affordable Housing, Inc.

Olbiston Apartments is located just one mile southwest of the city’s downtown center. The complex is on local bus lines and is near a grocery store, a pharmacy, medical facilities, daycare centers, and a public library.

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said, “The Olbiston Apartments are an indelible part of the rich history of Utica and I’m happy that this building will be preserved for future generations. It was disappointing to see how badly it had deteriorated and the living conditions its residents were subjected to were unacceptable. Oneida County was instrumental in assisting those residents during that difficult time, and I’m glad that through state and local funding, the Olbiston will be restored to its former glory.

Financing for Olbiston Apartments includes $4.8 million in permanent tax-exempt bonds, State and Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits that will generate $22 million in equity, and $16.3 million in subsidy from New York State Homes and Community Renewal. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation approved State and Federal Historic Tax Credits that will generate $13.4 million in equity. The City of Utica provided $3 million from the Utica Prosperity Initiative. Additional financing is being provided by a deferred developer fee.

Photo of 49 Tremont St. in North Tonawanda courtesy of Armitage.

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