December 15, 2011, 6:43 AM
LOCKPORT — The beginning of the $8.6 million makeover of one of Lockport’s most run-down residential areas was saluted Wednesday.
Housing Visions, a Syracuse based not-for-profit housing agency, started work on Lockport Canal Homes in October.
But a formal groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday, with speeches in First Baptist Church and some shoveling of dirt in a lot across the street.
Housing Visions bought most of the residential property on Genesee Street. Through demolitions, new construction and renovation, it expects to complete 30 apartments in nine buildings by the end of 2012.
The first apartments should be available by early summer, said Ben Lockwood, director of development for Housing Visions.
The housing is aimed at tenants earning less than 60 percent of the median income for their family size in the Buffalo Niagara region.
But what separates this from other subsidized housing projects is Housing Visions’ strict screening of would-be tenants.
Lockwood said, “We do income verification. We do criminal background checks. We do sex offender checks. We do a credit check, so we know people can get utilities in their name. We do previous-landlord checks.”
And Housing Visions also visits the prospective tenants in their current homes to get a handle on whether they’d be suitable, Lockwood said.
It has used this policy in completed projects in Syracuse, Utica, Rome, Auburn, Cortland, Binghamton and Oswego.
The sale of $5.8 million in tax credits to Enterprise Community Partners, a national low-income housing organization, was the main piece in the funding puzzle.
Money also came from the state’s Homeless Housing Assistance Corp., which funds housing for domestic violence victims, according to its project manager, David Galdun.
The YWCA of Niagara is reserving nine units for those fleeing domestic violence, said Mary Brennan-Taylor, vice president of programs.
City officials admitted they were skeptical of Housing Visions, but they’re now full-fledged believers.
“I welcome them here. I didn’t always feel that way,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. But he changed his tune after visiting a project in Syracuse.
“I was probably one of the naysayers in our group when we vetted Housing Visions,” said Alderman Jack L. Smith Jr., whose neighborhood watch group contacted Housing Visions in 2008.
“We really wanted to do our homework. You don’t want to bring something into your neighborhood that’s going to be counterproductive in a year or two,” Smith said.
Robin McCowen, president of Lockport Neighborhood Revitalization, said she wants to bring Genesee Street “back to the family-friendly neighborhood it once was.”