A plan for a North End apartment building that would be home to people in need of supportive housing drew fierce opposition from some members of the community and a majority of city lawmakers Tuesday night.
“This ain’t the right time and this ain’t the right pace,” Councilman Kenny Tompkins said of the proposal by DePaul Properties and Community Missions.
The centerpiece of the $15.5 million project is a two-story, 80-unit apartment building to be located on Ninth Street and Garden Avenue. The nine-acre site had once been the proposed location for 41 single-family homes, slated to be built by Norstar Buffalo USA as part of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority’s federally funded HOPE VI housing initiative.
The DePaul plan calls for about 50 units in the building to be set aside for low-income residents and senior citizens. The remaining 30 units would be reserved for clients of Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier and would house individuals who are receiving mental health services from that agency.
The development would also include space for gardens and a farmers market.
DePaul is one of the largest developers of low-income housing in New York state. Mayor Paul Dyster said the company approached city hall with its project and was told to “meet with the community.”
“We haven’t been involved with this,” the mayor said. “We told (DePaul) to meet with the community because (the project) could be controversial and it appears that (meeting) didn’t go well.”
Residents and representatives of the North End packed the City Council chambers and told lawmakers that, after a March meeting with the developer, the community “empathically” rejected the proposal.
“We all agreed that if the community did not want this, (DePaul) would not do it,” Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed, D-Niagara Falls, said. “But here we are, like they’re shoving it down our throat.”
Despite the community objections, DePaul had asked for final approval of the project by the city planning board on Oct. 23. The planning board tabled the request after North End residents showed up to protest.
Sister Beth Brosmer, from Heart, Love and Soul food pantry, passionately spoke in favor of the DePaul project.
“There is a great need for adequate housing in the North End,” she said, her voice rising. “And there is a greater need for supportive housing.”
That led some residents to push back, saying there is already too much low-income housing in the North End.
“I’m tired of the poverty pushers pushing their projects to the North End,” City Council candidate Donta Myles said. “There has been a lack of transparency. I feel (DePaul) is a bunch of lairs.”
A woman who identified herself as a “former DePaul worker,” said the company was not sympathetic to the community.
“They’re not here for us,” Dorothy Hall said.
Representatives of DePaul could not be immediately reached Tuesday night for comment.
The council took two actions in response to the residents’ complaints. Council members adopted a resolution opposing the project and scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 13 on a proposed local law that would enact a moratorium “on applications for multi-tenant/supportive housing projects and dwellings within the North End, Highland Avenue area.”
“I wouldn’t approve this project on any street in the city,” Councilman William Kennedy said.
Both the resolution in opposition and the call for a public hearing on the local law were approved on 4-to-1 votes, with Councilman Chris Voccio opposing them.
“If this were on city land, that would make a difference,” Voccio said, “But this is a private development and it’s permitted. In this land, we abide by the rule of law and now we’re trying to change the rules.”