Historic 1850 religious building in Niagara Falls, New York is restored and adaptively reused into much-needed affordable housing

July 11, 2023 saw the completion of True Bethel Commons, a $15 million adaptive reuse of the vacant former historic Sacred Heart school, rectory and convent buildings in Niagara Falls, New York.

This visionary redevelopment project on South Avenue is revitalizing the neighborhood with 39 much-ne3eded affordable apartments.

It is so rewarding to see historic neighborhood landmarks such as Sacred Heart gain renewed purpose as affordable housing,” Governor Kathy Hochul said. “This transformation serves as an example of how public and private partnerships can work together to benefit New York’s communities and create new places for people to live and raise a family.

Apartments are affordable to households earning at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income. Eight apartments will be fully accessible and adapted for people with individual physical needs. The city of Niagara Falls will provide 24 Project-Based Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers for residents.

The Sacred Heart complex in Niagara Falls, which dates to the 1850s and was expanded several times, is listed in the State and Federal Register of Historic Places.

The adaptive reuse design preserved the character of the buildings, including maintaining the wide school corridors, terrazzo flooring, transom windows, extensive woodwork, and leaded glass windows, as well as restoring a large portion of the gymnasium.

The redevelopment meets Enterprise Green Communities requirements, and all apartments include energy-efficient ranges and ovens, refrigerators, and lighting. Building amenities include a community room with a kitchen area, playground, bulk storage for bikes, computer room, and laundry rooms in each building.

True Bethel Commons is located near schools, health care facilities, municipal services, retail establishments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and public parks. The South Avenue location also provides direct access to multiple public transportation routes.

Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Inc. is the developer in partnership with True Community Development Corporation.

Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “True Bethel Commons adds 39 beautiful, unique affordable homes and will breathe new life into Sacred Heart and allow this property to continue to serve generations of families. Congratulations to Belmont Housing, True Bethel Baptist Church and the city of Niagara Falls for their generous and cooperative efforts to plan, fund and, through the worst of the pandemic, get this neighborhood development finished.

Since 2017, HCR has dedicated more than $535 million in resources to finance 52 multifamily developments with a total development cost of $1.3 billion and 4,900 affordable apartments across the Western New York region.

Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Adaptive reuse projects like True Bethel Commons help demonstrate our capacity as New Yorkers to bring ambitious projects into reality through creative investment in our existing infrastructure. By utilizing federal and state historic tax credits and rehabilitating a previously vacant building in the city of Niagara Falls, this collaborative project will not only provide much-needed affordable housing but is also a re-investment into the community. We are glad to be part of such efforts.

New York State continues to lead the nation in use of historic tax credits, with $4.5 billion in total rehabilitation costs from 2017-2021. Since 2011, the historic tax credit program has stimulated over $12 billion in project expenditures in New York State, creating significant investment and new jobs.

According to a report, between 2017-2021 the credits in New York State generated 69,769 jobs and generated over $1.3 billion in local, state, and federal taxes.

The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects, and sites significant in the history, architecture, archaeology and culture of New York State and the nation.

There are more than 120,000 historic properties throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts. Property owners, municipalities, and organizations from communities throughout the state sponsor the nominations.

State and local leaders are praising the project:

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said, “Every Niagara Falls resident deserves access to safe affordable housing, and I am proud that the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has supplied the millions needed to transform these vacant school, rectory and convent buildings into dozens of new affordable accessible apartments for residents and families,” said Senator Schumer. “I applaud Governor Hochul’s commitment to increasing access to affordable housing across the Empire State, and I will keep fighting to deliver the federal resources to lay the foundation for a brighter future for Western New York.

Representative Brian Higgins said, “True Bethel Commons is a great example of how federal development programs and tax credits can be effectively utilized to revitalize and meet the needs of Niagara Falls and Western New York. Made possible with a combination of federal Historic Tax Credits, Low-Income Tax Credits, Community Development Block Funding, and a Federal Home Loan Bank award, the project led by True Community Development and Belmont Housing, fills an urgent need for affordable housing while resurrecting a new community in what was once an old church campus.”

State Senator Rob Ortt said, “As our state continues to face an ever-growing housing crisis, these new affordable apartments will make an immediate difference in our community. When I attended the groundbreaking of this project, all of our partners knew that it would take determination and foresight to achieve a successful conversion of this property. Today, I’m proud of the work that has been completed. I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen and the leaders who had the vision to convert the former Sacred Heart Campus, undertaking the enormous task of redeveloping it into modern, efficient, and affordable housing to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said, “Congratulations to Belmont Housing Resources of WNY for the grand opening of True Bethel Commons. This project demonstrates how ambition and teamwork can bring real positive change to a community. I’d like to thank NYS Homes and Community Renewal, NYS Department of Parks, the city of Niagara Falls, and all other partners for creating 39 new much-needed homes.

Representative Jeffrey Elder, Niagara County Legislature 4th District, said, “Affordable housing is not just a fundamental need, but also a vital component of fostering a thriving community. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the developers, architects, contractors, and all the dedicated professionals who have brought this project to fruition.

Mayor Robert Restaino said, “The addition of True Bethel Commons to our community creates additional opportunities as a model for future development. We appreciate all the work of all our partners in completing this project.

Janice McKinnie, True CDC Executive Director; Bishop Darius G. Pridgen, TBBC; and Pastor Craig D. Pridgen, TBBC-NF Campus said, “We are grateful about the opportunity to provide housing to the residents in the city of Niagara Falls, NY. It is with our continued focus and mission to ensure that families and communities are able to have a place to call home.

Brad Packard, Executive Vice President, Belmont Housing Resources, said, “The completion of this project marks yet another step forward in the revitalization of the city of Niagara Falls. True Bethel Commons not only provides quality affordable housing for area residents, but it also preserves significant historical assets in our community. We want to specifically thank our development partner, True Community Development Corporation, for their vision and commitment to advancing this important project. The restoration and revival of this historic campus serves as a testament to what can be accomplished when local, state, and federal resources are leveraged toward the common goal of delivering affordable housing. We thank all our financing partners who played a critical role in ensuring the success of this development and expansion of our core mission.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal awarded $8 million in federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and $2.4 million in subsidy. In addition, the project anticipates $2.4 million in federal and $2.4 million in state historic rehabilitation tax credits.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York provided $390,000 through Evans Bank and the City of Niagara Falls contributed $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to the cost of development.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Kathy Hochul.

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