With construction work complete, housing agency plans upkeep of Auburn neighborhood


The cross streets of Orchard Street and James Street in Auburn is where the renovated S.E. Payne apartment building is located. Photo by Sarah Jean Condon, The Citizen

The cross streets of Orchard Street and James Street in Auburn is where the renovated S.E. Payne apartment building is located. Photo by Sarah Jean Condon, The Citizen

 

By Greg Mason

From The Auburn Citizen, November 23, 2014

Syracuse agency Housing Visions uses a very stringent process in selecting tenants to live in the company’s brand-new affordable housing units. Ben Lockwood, vice president of business development for the agency, describes the hurdles.

A prospective tenant must undergo an income verification check, credit check, a sex offender check, an in-person interview and a background check, during which the agency reaches out to multiple landlords in the applicant’s past.

It is likely five times more effort than what was put in by some past landlords in the Orchard Street neighborhood in Auburn, Lockwood said.

When the nonprofit decided to redevelop 16 buildings in the area, signs of disinvestment through absentee property ownership were noticed.

“They suffered years of disinvestment, neglect or sometimes overcrowding,” Lockwood said. “They were cut up into way more apartments than what was probably a good idea.

“We wanted to reset that,” Lockwood added. “We wanted to make appropriate-sized apartments, make it a family neighborhood and really help out through high quality and productive property management to make a safe, enjoyable neighborhood of choice.”

For about four years, Housing Visions worked with the city of Auburn and Home HeadQuarters, another Syracuse-based housing agency, to bring redevelopment efforts to a head. These efforts were funded in part by the Allyn Foundation as well as state and federal funding programs.

Now the mission is upkeep.

Housing Visions will manage most of the properties for at least 15 years; at the end of that term, 12 duplex buildings will become available for purchase.

In the interim, Housing Visions will maintain the properties from a management office on Clark Street. Lockwood noted this office will work to remain responsive to tenant concerns, including maintenance.

Lockwood notes that the program is tightly regulated. If tenants do not stay in line, they will be asked to move along, he said.

“We see it as a two-way street,” he added. “We’re building a good product and we want a level of responsibility in our residents as well.”

With the redevelopment complete, some neighbors have clamored over more work in the Orchard Street area.

However, that is unlikely — from Housing Visions, at least. Lockwood said the state stands by a policy of spreading the wealth, or grant funding, when it comes to development efforts.

Housing Visions will remain to maintain the new buildings and see through the investment in a community, Lockwood said, has made great “progress” since the project’s completion.

“Have we fixed everything? No. But I think we’ve given it a good push in the right direction.”

 

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.