Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder • May 1, 2013
“The Northside was one of the last Syracuse neighborhoods to experience accelerated decline because it had been so strong for much of its history,” explains Ben Lockwood of Housing Visions, “A strong neighborhood culture insulated it from some of the downturns occurring elsewhere in Syracuse. The recent explosion of the immigrant population has been good for the neighborhood and another chapter in the evolution of the Northside.”
Ben is the Director of Development at Housing Visions, a nonprofit committed to revitalizing and sustaining neighborhoods through a comprehensive approach that improves quality of life. To do this, Housing Visions reconstructs or rehabilitates buildings and homes and manages properties. The Northside is home to one of Housing Visions’ offices and a handful of their housing developments.
One of Ben’s most memorable developments on the Northside is Prospect Hill Homes. “Behind the scenes was pretty difficult,” he explains. The housing project included the purchase of 21 lots and the demolition of 13 buildings. Balancing all the components of such a large project on one of the Northside’s most blighted blocks proved to be a challenge, but “it turned out really well” in the end. In fact, the Prospect Hill Homes are of high-quality, environmentally friendly, and affordable. Ben says that the highest compliment after a housing project like Prospect Hill is for “people not to notice our housing—it’s just a really well-kept house.” The architectural focus does not leak into flashy and decorative details, but rather simple, clean, functional buildings.
The affordability of homes and apartments is a very important component to Housing Visions’ developments. In fact, Housing Visions was first conceived in Syracuse during the late ’80s when many Rust Belt cities were experiencing similar fates with high rates of crime, flight to the suburbs, and disinvestment. A task force was soon organized by University United Methodist Church to tackle this problem on Genesee Street.
Housing Visions organized as a not-for-profit in 1990 and promptly began construction on Genesee Street properties. The results were positive, so the group kept going. They aimed to see progress and provide individuals with opportunities to overcome poverty.
Housing Visions specializes in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and likes to make sure that their properties are in a neighborhood that is close to resources, transportation, and services. The Prospect Hill Homes, for example, are located next to St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center.
“That’s a major economic generator. There’s a good degree of certainty,” Ben jokes, “that the hospital’s not going anywhere.” Such prime real estate makes health care more easily accessible and an opportunity for potential job placement.