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  1. #1
    Unregistered Dr Funky's Avatar
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    Housing in The Falls getting worse

    http://www.niagara-gazette.com/local...274001441.html

    Rough shape

    Oversupply of housing noted as ‘key problem’ in master plan

    By Denise Jewell
    Niagara Gazette

    NIAGARA FALLS — Gloria Sylvester watched as a fire swept through a vacant two-story house across from her home on Niagara Avenue earlier this month.

    The flames whipped at a house nearby where residents had to be evacuated. It was the second fire in the building this summer.

    “It’s been empty for years,” said Sylvester, as she watched firefighters from her front porch. “Somebody moved in once and moved out the same day.”

    Vacant houses are plaguing Niagara Falls neighborhoods.

    In large swaths of the Falls —especially streets in the center of the city and near industrial or commercial areas — homes left empty as the city’s population and economy have declined are burdening the city’s resources and deteriorating neighborhoods.

    Houses in Niagara Falls are, in general, in rougher shape than other areas of the state.

    The statistics are stark, according to the U.S. Census.

    n The percentage of vacant housing units in Niagara Falls is higher than the rest of the country. In some depressed areas of the city in the South End or near Highland Avenue, more than a quarter of the homes are vacant.

    n Although Niagara Falls housing prices are much lower than other areas of the state, a lower percentage of Niagara Falls residents own the homes they live in compared to the entire state.

    n 95 percent of the houses in Niagara Falls were built before 1980, compared to 85 percent statewide and 67 percent across the nation. Homes built before 1980 are more likely to have lead-based paint or other structural problems that need expensive repairs.

    n While still a slim number, a higher percentage of people in the city live without complete kitchen facilities or telephone service than in either New York state or the United States.

    “It’s a symptomatic problem, because housing problems result from other problems,” said John Drake, executive director of Center City Neighborhood Development Corp., which runs the city’s largest housing rehabilitation program. “It reflects the decline of Niagara Falls and the incomes in Niagara Falls. If we had a growing population and a healthy economy, we’d have a very small housing problem.”

    The city’s own master plan cites the city’s oversupply of housing as a key problem in Niagara Falls. “Population decline, suburban flight and a decrease in family size,” the 2004 report states, have all contributed to a city where 13 percent of the 27,837 housing units are vacant.

    The master plan — written by city planners and stakeholders as a map to revitalizing the city — also states that the Falls has “no incentive for the repair and upgrading of rental units and many homes are abandoned.”

    The cost of maintaining those vacant homes often falls on the city, which has paid $1.37 million this year to demolish 50 vacant buildings and $280,671 on teams to clean up abandoned properties.

    Mayor Vince Anello and the City Council also approved borrowing an additional $200,000 to demolish vacant structures in the city in emergencies. They hope that amount will get them through the end of the year.

    On Niagara Avenue, where fire ripped through a vacant house twice this summer, the city finally had to pay $35,000 to tear down the burnt structure in an emergency demolition.

    Next month, dozens of properties that have fallen behind in taxes will be auctioned off by the city.



    A domino effect

    Vacant homes strain neighborhoods where residents are struggling to maintain their homes and retain housing values.

    Linda Clark knows that struggle.

    Clark’s two-story Cleveland Avenue house has been in her family for 40 years. Her front lawn is adorned with flags and ceramic leprechauns. She mows her lawn and has covered her large porch windows with shear plastic to make it more energy efficient. Clark has also tapped into a grant program run by Center City Neighborhood Development to upgrade the roof, siding and electrical work in her home.

    But she worries about the impact of vacant houses and rental units on her neighborhood, where the majority of homeowners still maintain their properties.

    A few blocks west, the boarded up windows of dilapidated houses have become more frequent. The city tore down an asbestos-laded home on her block this summer.

    “I like taking care of my property,” Clark said. “I can’t stand it when you see these houses.”

    The effects of vacant homes reaches far beyond the cost to demolish the structures.

    A citywide housing conditions survey completed in 2004 found large sections of the city near Highland Avenue, the South End and center city where more than 75 percent of the housing is substandard.

    “Vacant, abandoned and boarded up houses have a detrimental effect on a neighborhood in several ways. It decreases the value of people’s assets, their houses. It makes it harder for them to sell if they want to move. It gives them less incentives to fix it up because they know the value of their housing is dropping,” Drake said. “It gives them less value as a rental property. It’s harder to rent, harder to get good tenants. So in general, it just leads to further and further decline.”

    A financial consultant, Ed Markus of Aramark Consulting, told the Niagara Falls Water Board earlier this month that a higher-than-expected drop in residential water consumption this year was due to an increase in the number of boarded-up homes where water had been shut off.

    Some of those houses, Markus said, are held by speculators who expect property values in the Falls to rise.

    “People are buying up houses as investments, basically boarding them up for a few years anticipating the value going up,” Markus said.



    Jobs at root of problem

    If there is going to be a resurgence in Niagara Falls housing, advocates say, it will take a boon in the city’s economy to spur the type of new housing that would attract new residents and grow the city’s residential tax base.

    Housing advocates like Drake believe that housing has languished for years as jobs have dried up and residents have moved away.

    “What you’re treating is a problem that is actually a symptom of economic decline,” Drake said.

    The question, then, is whether the city needs new jobs to attract residents or new housing to cater to workers.

    “It’s the chicken or the egg, but in this city, I know the answer. The answer is jobs,” Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services Executive Director Larry Krizan said. “If you don’t provide economic development in the form of jobs and attractive nightlife and shopping opportunities, nobody wants to live here. Jobs come first.”

    More than three years after it opened, the Seneca Niagara Casino remains a glittering hope that at least some of the 1,400 new employees on the site will want to live in Niagara Falls.

    About a mile away, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center presents another potential supplier of new Niagara Falls residents.

    Robert Antonucci, project administrator for the city’s Department of Community Development, said city officials are working to facilitate new housing construction in areas near the Seneca Niagara Casino.

    “Is the market here right now for new housing?” Antonucci said. “That hasn’t been answered.”

    For two years, the city has been pursuing private developers to build new market-rate housing in the center of the city to serve an increasing number of hospital and casino employees who may want to live near work.

    While details are scarce, the plan could entail tearing down rows of houses near Niagara Street and the casino to produce a shovel-ready location for new townhouses or other housing. Mayor Vince Anello has said he has been negotiating with two developers to build on the site.

    Krizan believes the project could bridge a disconnect between the types of urban houses the city has and the types homes people are seeking.

    “Frankly, Niagara Falls doesn’t need housing, because we have a 13 percent vacancy,” Krizan said. “But we need new middle class housing, because we don’t have that kind of housing to offer. You know, Cayuga Island and DeVeaux don’t have high vacancy rates. Not anymore.”



    Contact Denise Jewell

    at 282-2311, ext. 2245.

  2. #2
    Unregistered Dr Funky's Avatar
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    http://www.niagara-gazette.com/local...274215651.html

    REMODELING: Homeowners like Linda Clark work to stabilize their neighborhoods

    Linda Clark, 48, was facing thousands of dollars of repairs to her two-story home on Cleveland Avenue.

    The single-family house needed electrical work that hadn’t been kept up to code. Clark needed to replace the roof and exchange wooden shingles for vinyl siding. But the school bus supervisor had just been laid off and she feared she couldn’t afford the repairs.

    Clark’s dilemma is one facing hundreds of homeowners in Niagara Falls who are struggling to maintain their homes as houses nearby deteriorate.

    She has watched the impact of boarded up Main Street stores and vacant houses spread through the years toward her neighborhood.

    While many of the homes on Clark’s Cleveland Avenue block are occupied by homeowners who care for their properties, houses to the west are in visibly worse condition just a block away. To the east, across Hyde Park, property conditions have remained stable.

    “Our street at the end down near 22nd is basically the borderline right now. It used to be 18th Street,” Clark said. “That’s the unfortunate thing. I always think of it like a cancer. It started spreading way down Main Street. It started coming down 11th Street, 13th Street, 18th Street. Now it’s down at 22nd.”

    One of five children, Clark moved into the house 40 years ago with her family. She wants to stay in Niagara Falls and recently started a new job as a city dispatcher.

    City records show the home was built in 1935 and is assessed at $39,000. When Clark needed to make the repairs last year, she worried about how she would scrape the money together just to fix her roof.

    That’s when Clark found Center City Neighborhood Development’s housing rehabilitation program.

    The non-profit organization pumped more than $20,000 into the narrow house decorated with green leprechauns and American flags. Contractors ripped off the wooden siding and replaced it with grayish green vinyl siding.

    David Soles, project manager for Center City, describes the ideal projects for Center City as people like Clark, who want to live in their homes and maintain them.

    “We’re working with houses that are essentially online, habitable, functional, that need general upgrades instead of full-scale upgrades,” Soles said.

    Although her income was about a third of what it had been when she received a grant and low-interest loan from Center City, she would have qualified for the program before she lost her job.

    “I’ve been here 40 years and my family’s here,” Clark said. “I don’t anticipate ever moving. I like the city of Niagara Falls. It has just gotten so decaying down. Hopefully, something like Center City, with grants and everything, hopefully some of these houses will get fixed up.”

    Contact Denise Jewell at 282-2311, Ext. 2245.

    - - - - - - - - - --

    (This is my block they are talking about this ladies house that is across the street from me)

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    http://www.niagara-gazette.com/local...274223110.html

    DAY 2: A tale of two houses

    A lot with 6,800 square feet, big enough to accommodate two houses in some parts of the city.

    A driveway with a 2-car garage, vinyl siding and a place in a neighborhood that still watches out for its own.

    So why has this two-family house on Welch Avenue sat on the market since the beginning of August, priced at $25,000 and drawing only one brief showing?

    Part of the reason is its previous owner, one of the many long-time residents in the neighborhood who aged in their house and likely lack the income to keep it up to date.

    Part of the reason has to do with what keeps a lot of houses in the region from attracting young buyers with enthusiasm and income — a lack of steady jobs with family-supporting salaries.

    But real estate agents working in Niagara Falls say there are also a number of unique factors that can create a sizable barrier in the minds of anybody looking for a house in the city limits, no matter how inexpensive it may be compared to other areas.

    “If the price is right, everything can be sold ... there are a lot of houses that could be good buys for someone with the right mindset,” said Mary Ann Zahradnik, an agent with Lewiston’s Hunt Real Estate office. “But so many people in the city lack the money to cover all the closing costs, let alone complete all the work.”

    The 1,700-square-foot house on Welch Avenue, built in 1930, isn’t a prime example of an undiscovered gem. One step onto the slanted wooden porch reveals that it probably needs replacing, or at least structural supports and a re-painting.

    The inside, Zahradnik said, “needs work in every single room,” and the lock on the front door is so old that it refused to open on a recent afternoon. Despite its problems, however, Zahradnik said an inspection by a structural engineer found the house’s foundation to be intact — “It really is a handyman’s special,” she said.

    But any potential buyer would almost certainly have to pay cash, Zahradnik said, as most banks wouldn’t offer a mortgage for the property. And they’d have to pay about $1,700 in taxes every year on the property, which is assessed at $45,000.

    “With our economy the way it is, with older people no longer working and young people trying to find good jobs ... it’s so rare, really, for a buyer to have all the closing costs and savings on hand,” said David Stefik, who has worked in real estate for 16 years at the firm his father, Robert M. Stefik, founded nearly 90 years ago.

    Stefik added that a number of national and local first-time homebuyer programs offer help to buyers looking at rehabilitating or simply living in the city. But without a solid job for two years, low debt totals and some savings on hand, there is only so much a buyer can qualify for.

    Head east across the city — under the I-190 overpass, south on Military Road for a minute and then onto 87th Street — and Zahradnik has another two-family, 1,700-square-foot house for sale, built 10 years earlier than the Welch Avenue site and with almost all of the same basic features that show up on a multiple listing service.

    The difference is that this home is listed at $89,900 and has received a lot of attention since investors bought it as a project last February. The refinished hardwood floors shine in the sunlight, new copper plumbing and electrical wires run through the house, and nearly every room has received some updating.

    It has still taken four or five open houses to garner real interest, Zahradnik said, but she had a second showing for a couple scheduled last week. People in the housing market ask some of the same questions at each showing in the city — about taxes, about the neighborhood and schools, and another point they phrase in a variety of ways.

    “Niagara Falls is just getting a reputation, and it keeps going down, and down, and down,” Zahradnik said. “For some houses, it probably keeps them from getting the attention they deserve.”

    Stefik said he doesn’t hear an “Oh, Niagara Falls” reaction from most buyers. They have the same concerns as most buyers — how long has a property been listed, who were the last owners and the like — and some find great opportunities in city limits.

    “Certain parts of the city, definitely, have really turned things around,” Stefik said. “Streets like Park Place have some really great houses at value prices, and there are the apartments on Cedar Avenue ... getting investors in to fix up.”

    But for every person who buys or invests in the city, more likely head to developing areas with lower taxes, like Wheatfield or Lewiston. Zahradnik said for younger buyers, especially, grant programs that cover down payments, closing costs or renovation could be a deal-maker.

    “I sold one young man, a construction worker, a house in the city that he fixed up the way he wanted it, and he and his family love it now,” she said. “It can be a tough sell, but I know there are houses out there like that one.”

    Contact Kevin Purdy at 693-1000 ext. 107

  5. #5
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    It's ALL about money. The only reason N.Falls moved beyond a ramshackle tourist village was cheap electricity. The cheap electricty is gone now (thank you, Robert Moses the King of New York City) . It will continue to shrink until it reaches the ramshackle tourist village stage.

    This applies to the entire Buffalo/Niagara Falls area - when we get to the sustainable base, we'll see what we can make of this region. Another 15-20 years is my hope.

  6. #6
    Unregistered Dr Funky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edisonic
    It's ALL about money. The only reason N.Falls moved beyond a ramshackle tourist village was cheap electricity. The cheap electricty is gone now (thank you, Robert Moses the King of New York City) . It will continue to shrink until it reaches the ramshackle tourist village stage.

    This applies to the entire Buffalo/Niagara Falls area - when we get to the sustainable base, we'll see what we can make of this region. Another 15-20 years is my hope.
    Possibly the next Camden, New Jersey?

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