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UConnect still needs to connect the dots before funding approval for motel purchase

By Joanne Beck
Gordon Dibble, Tammy Ferringer, John Bennett
John Bennett, CEO of the newly renamed UConnect, makes a request for Genesee County to pitch in $100,000 toward the purchase of a motel to serve as transitional housing for clients that have gone through rehab. Legislator Gordon Dibble and Assistant County Manager Tammi Ferringer listen to his appeal during Monday's Human Services meeting.
Photo by Joanne Beck

A request for $100,000 in funding for the purchase of a motel for transitional housing by John Bennett of UConnect Care, was fairly quickly moved onto Wednesday’s Ways & Means meeting after Genesee County Legislator Marianne Clattenburg voiced concerns about what she deemed questionable use of taxpayer funds Monday.

Bennett, chief executive officer of the longtime-named agency Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and recently renamed UConnect Care, laid out his case for using grant funds that are earmarked for opioid-related purposes to purchase The Attican, a 29-unit motel in Genesee County. 

Perched at the top of a hill at 11180 Alexander Road, the motel would serve the needs of the agency by housing singles and single parents with small children in need of safe housing while they are transitioning from rehab for anywhere from a few days for up to three months, Bennett said during Monday’s Human Services meeting.

Bennett said that he’s got funding of $600,000 from grants, $100,000 from GCASA, or UConnect, and is requesting $100,000 from Genesee County to top it off for the total $800,000. His proposal will move to the Ways and Means meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, which is chaired by Clattenburg.

The facility would probably operate with a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and paid for with a five-year grant from UConnect, other resources and Genesee County, he said. 

“We plan to have a maintenance person living there. We’ve done our due diligence,” he said. “We maintain our properties. It’s a new adventure for me; it’s a little bit of a stretch, but it’s the right thing to do.”

His agency had a grant with some beds prior to COVID and the pandemic, and now no longer operates those, which were for crisis housing situations for folks to stay up to seven days, he said. 

There are people using The Attican for temporary housing now, which can get expensive, but it accommodates their current lifestyle, he said.

Legislator Gary Maha asked if Bennett would be returning at some point down the road to ask for more money. Bennett didn’t think that was the case, as most of the funding is in place for the purchase offer, and “we have the means for programming,” he said. 

He painted scenarios of a single mom with kids who may be struggling with other issues as well as drugs; individuals couch surfing without a stable home of their own; or other issues that make for an unsteady way of life.

Maha agreed that “you don’t see people sleeping under a bridge or under a park bench here; it’s different,” versus in larger cities where homelessness is literally on the streets. It’s more about unstable housing, Bennett said. 

“These guys will catch me in the parking lot and thank me. Having some crisis housing for people, it’s huge,” he said. “We have a lot of people that have been using our system for a long time … they put some sobriety together, struggle, and relapse. We’re that safe place for them to be.”

County Mental Health Director Lynda Battaglia offered her support for the idea, emphasizing that housing is an issue for lots of people, not just for those with addictions, but with mental health issues, coming out of the hospital, were homeless and now need a place to stay.

“They can go there. And we struggle with housing. We have a couple of respite beds that it's usually like a 30-day minimum stay. And those are full all the time, and we have a waitlist. So that individual is going out of the hospital, we have to work with DSS, we have to try to find something,” she said. “The thing about somebody that needs housing, and they're trying to recover, and they have mental health issues and all of these other issues just working against them somehow. It just sets the foundation for them to then take some additional steps forward to live a productive life, a healthy life.”

She asked Clattenburg how she thinks she would be able to begin all over again without anything. What would you do? Battaglia said.

Clattenburg pivoted to the housing ratio in the city of Batavia: 51 percent is rental versus 49 percent owner-occupied homes. 

“So if the grand plan is to change more housing, into supportive housing, and take a property off the tax rolls, and change the whole nature of this community, then you're not going to have my support. There has to be some give and take here,” Clattenburg said. "And now we're not going to have any women in Batavia, and it’s going to be all men. So I don't know what that does to the dynamic of the public safety atmosphere. Do you have a pilot in the city of Batavia for any of the other properties that you have, but you’re going to have a pilot for this one? That’s a whole other question.

“I mean, I understand that years ago, you know, you’d get this kind of crisis we’ve all had in a family, but this used to be part of the family’s thing. But now the government has replaced the family. So, I don't know how we ever get ahead of all of this. I just don't know,” Clattenburg said. “And I just don't know if throwing programs and programs and programs, that we're ever going to get there at some point. Myself, as a representative of this community, has to say no, we need to be thinking of our people too.”

Bennett and colleague Luke Granger said their purchase offer would be $800,000 for the motel. Clattenburg asked about its assessed value, which Granger said he thought was $297,000. 

The online assessment records actually state that it’s assessed at $292,000. Built-in 1984, the two-story property was last sold in 2006 for a net sale price of $300,000, and its taxable value is $292,000. 

Regardless of that discrepancy, Clattenburg seemed incredulous that they wanted to spend $900,000 (she was later corrected that the purchase offer was going to be $800,000) for property assessed at $297,000.

“I don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer money,” she said. “I’m not anti-this organization, because I do think you do some good things. But I do think that there's some problems that I just can’t look the other way. I just want us to be aware of that. And to know that it's an issue in the city of Batavia.  And it's just so frustrating to have this be an issue in your organization for so long, and to go from one building to two to three, that, you know, all these services, and just, I’m sure it's heartbreaking to you too, that we just don't seem to be getting ahead of this, it just seems to be getting worse. And that’s the frustration.”

Bennett said that he has been doing this for “a very long time” and that it would be easier for him not to take on such a project at this point than to get involved. But he believes in the agency and its mission.

“People have feelings about us, and they either love us or hate us. We're pretty polarized. And the truth of it is we provide a very good service. And our organization has done very good work. We take good care of our properties in this community, we employ a ton of people, we have close to 200 employees that do the work, right, and now we're going to be in a motel unit,” he said. “But think about if you had the motel here and you had case management, so we're gonna teach management and people there to help people and to guide them and to also make sure that people aren't causing trouble. So I mean, it is more than just housing, too. It is other support services that these folks don't have right now. And so we’re it for them sometimes. And I know that, believe me, I know that there's a huge need out there for lots of people right now. So we're just trying to help our little piece of the world.”

After the meeting, Clattenburg said that she purposely attended this meeting to get more information about the plan for this purchase. “I just had a lot more questions,“ she said.

“And it wasn’t really answered the way I thought. So I’m just, I’m kind of stunned with the difference in the assessment and the price,” she said. You know, these are taxpayer funds, and we did go through a lawsuit to get funding to help with this crisis. I realized that these are the professionals who are giving us recommendations, but I think it’s our job to question things. And I’d like to know where we’re headed with this.”

The property is listed as for sale on LoopNet. That listing does not include an asking price. gives the estimated market value of the property as $970,343.

During the meeting, she raised the issue of the city of Batavia’s disparity of owner-occupied homes versus renters, at 49 percent to 51 percent, respectively, and fewer properties on the tax rolls. Taking The Attican off of Genesee County’s tax roll by converting it to a nonprofit housing entity is not something she wants to see.  The Batavian asked if she’s concerned about where we are with housing in the city.

“Absolutely,” she said. "I come from the perspective of being on council and being the council president, and seeing those issues come up. You know, it just seems like we are, with the Savarino property devolving into what it was, people want to live and work here and raise their families, and it feels like they're just getting pushed out of that. So I have to be here to advocate for everybody.”

Bennett said that the plan would not move forward without the county’s support. He would work with county Manager Matt Landers and wait to hear the outcome of the Ways & Means Committee meeting. 

If the committee agrees to the request, it will vote on a resolution that will go to the county Legislature for final approval. That will be to award the Genesee Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc. (GCASA) $100,000 “to respond to the homeless housing crisis in the County with a focus on people with opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders,” according to the resolution, for the purchase of the motel known as The Attican.

Bennett said Monday that he had not yet spoken to the motel owner about an offer and purchase, as he had wanted to obtain approval for the county funding before doing so. The owner is listed as Aum Shree LLC. 

attican motel
The Attican on Alexander Road
Photo by Howard Owens
attican motel
John Bennett, CEO of UConnectCare, formerly GCASA, would like to purchase The Attican for use as transitional housing for rehab clients seeking safe, stable housing on their way to recovery. 
Photo by Howard Owens

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