RICHMONDVILLE -- It's been almost seven years since Tropical Storm Irene devastated Schoharie County, but thanks to state grant funding a $9.8 million project to restore some of the community's lost housing capacity broke ground on Thursday.
The project, dubbed Candlewood Court I & II, comprises two 20-unit 23,600 square foot apartment buildings aimed at families earning 80 percent of the area median income and below. The buildings are at 347 Main St. and are being built by non-profit developer Housing Visions Construction Co., which will own and manage the apartments.
Mayor Kevin Nearing spoke before the official groundbreaking. He said Candlewood Court presents an opportunity for his village and for Schoharie County. Nearing said he used to work in the New York state Office of Emergency Management, so when Irene happened he knew what some of the challenges would be.
"The thing that was consistent, in every emergency I worked in, is housing, and that's always our challenge following a storm," he said.
Nearing said it was officials from the Schoharie Reformed Church who first approached him with the possibility of Housing Visions Construction Co. coming in and developing an affordable housing project using state money allocated to help Schoharie County recover from the natural disaster.
"We had a lot of houses that were flooded. We probably had 10 that were flooded in our community, but not to the severity of the [village of] Schoharie. We had a major culvert failure on Main Street, but most of our damages were confined to the low-lying areas. We didn't lose a lot of houses, but Schoharie did," Nearing said. "I think the original idea was to put a project over either in Schoharie or Middleburgh, but they couldn't find the land, so Richmondville was the other choice. They came over and talked to us about it. It's still for displaced residents of Schoharie County."
Nearing said he's hopeful the affordable pricing for rent for the buildings will help enable more seniors to remain residents of Richmondville.
"It's going to improve our housing stock in Richmondville. It's a great project for our community, it's going to help with our growth and bring good residents here. I would say our population has been down a little bit, but not because of the hurricane, it's just people move out of here," he said. "There aren't a lot of housing options in Schoharie County, so when people retire they want to sell their houses and they want to downsize and they end up moving to other communities. That's why we're happy this project is here, because we're hoping those residents reside in our community in this project that's here."
Ben Lockwood, Housing Visions vice president of business development, said the building project emerged from an organization called Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery, which approached his company and helped advocate for the funding needed to make it happen.
Lockwood said the money for Candlewood Court breaks down like this:
• $2.1 million loan from the Community Preservation Corp.
• $7.5 million grant from the New York state Small Project Affordable Rental Construction Program, aimed at rebuilding and repairing housing stock destroyed by natural disasters.
• $200,000 in equity from Housing Visions Construction Co.
Lockwood said his company was originally formed as a nonprofit development corporation to help stabilize a declining neighborhood in the Syracuse area in 1990. Since then, Housing Visions has built projects in 15 cities, creating about 1,600 units of income-based affordable housing.
"We currently have four projects that are under construction and another two that will kick off late this year and early next year," Lockwood said. "We're slated for [Candlewood Court to open] in February, but we're hoping we can finish by the new year."
Each of the two Candlewood Court apartment buildings have 12 one-bedroom units, 5 two-bedroom units and 3 three-bedroom units. Some units will also be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, enabling wheelchair access.
Village resident Philip Butler attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Butler said he was a vocal proponent of the housing project.
"Most people who support these projects don't show up, they just stay home and say 'Oh, I'd really like to see that' and the ones that don't want to see it, those are the voices you hear," he said. "I was born and raised here, worked overseas for the Army Corps of Engineers for 40 years and retired here. I own my house here, I rent out part of it. I think when the time comes, when I can't climb up these stairs anymore, this is where I'd want to be."