New apartment complex to serve entry level workers as viable housing option
Housing projects have various classifications, such as workforce, affordable and low income, all of which have certain definitions and income levels, and The Batavian wanted to clarify which words and parameters fit the Ellicott Station project in downtown Batavia.
First, a little housing definitions lesson:
Affordable Housing is generally defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities.
Market Rate Housing is the prevailing monthly cost for rental housing. It is set by the landlord without restrictions.
Housing Authority Housing authorities are public corporations with boards appointed by the local government. Their mission is to provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income people. In addition to public housing, housing authorities also provide other types of subsidized housing.
Subsidized Housing is a generic term covering all federal, state or local government programs that reduce the cost of housing for low- and moderate-income residents. Housing can be subsidized in numerous ways—giving tenants a rent voucher, helping homebuyers with downpayment assistance, reducing the interest on a mortgage, providing deferred loans to help developers acquire and develop property, giving tax credits to encourage investment in low- and moderate-income housing, authorizing tax-exempt bond authority to finance the housing, providing ongoing assistance to reduce the operating costs of housing and others. Public housing, project-based Section 8, Section 8 vouchers, tax credits, the State Housing Trust Fund, and Seattle Housing Levy programs are all examples of subsidized housing. Subsidized housing can range from apartments for families to senior housing high-rises. Subsidized simply means that rents are reduced because of a particular government program. It has nothing to do with the quality, location or type of housing. In fact, a number of Seattle's subsidized housing developments have received local and national design awards.
Workforce Housing is the industry standard definition for affordable housing that serves families that are at or below 60 percent of the median income.
When talking to local economic and project development folks, semantics seemed to really matter. Workforce was not much different than affordable, according to one person, and the term low income was freely bandied about until The Batavian tried to confirm that the housing was subsidized, and the comment was retracted. And nobody wanted to be quoted out of uncertainty.
The assets manager for Savarino Companies has not yet replied to email inquiries after The Batavian was referred to her last week.
At last, an answer came from Jim Krencik of the county’s Economic Development Center. Krencik confirmed that the buck stopped with him, per the last known income qualifications that EDC was aware of for the Ellicott Station project.
To back up a bit, why was this a question to begin with? Because, several years ago, in the infant stage of this project, there was talk of market-rate apartments to provide up-scale prices and amenities to feed the appetites of higher-paid workers and help to grow the city’s economy with an influx of well-to-do consumers.
That bubble was burst last year when Sam Savarino, owner of Savarino Companies, announced that it was a workforce apartment project going up on Ellicott Street. It was going to be for entry-level workers making around $20 an hour or less.
But then rumblings and murmurs took to the streets, combined with questions and fear and lack of details, and the possibility of this being a mixed project of affordable and low income, or subsidized only, emerged. So The Batavian tried to get an answer from economic and project development folks — to no avail.
So now, onto the answer. Krencik didn’t really give a classification label, but just an answer. Of the total of 55 units, 25 of them will go to tenants with 50 percent of the county’s current available median income, and 30 units will go to those with 60 percent of the median income.
As an example of what that could be, the latest median yearly income data from 2017 to 2021 was $63,734, 50 percent of that is $31,867 and 60 percent is $38,240. Krencik emphasized that if someone was approved based on that starting salary and then was promoted and earned a raise, he or she wouldn’t lose the apartment because of that increased figure.
The idea is to provide quality housing to people who may have just graduated from college and are starting out with a new job and career, and want to live in a decent place that they can also afford, he said.
What about all of those parents stating that their kids can’t find jobs to keep them here? Do you really think there will be enough entry level people to fill this complex?
Krencik was glad to get the question. He could then volley back information about a new program called Cornell Food Processing Bootcamp, which is specifically for 2023 graduates. Students can earn a free food processing certificate from Cornell University at Genesee Valley BOCES and connect with local food manufacturers that are hiring with average starting wages of $20/hour, according to a GCEDC flyer.
After doing some hard-hitting promotion of the program, there are 26 students signed up so far, Krencik said, all of whom could be viable candidates for Ellicott Station. While the housing complex won’t be for everyone, it can fill many needs, he said.
“A lot of folks in that cohort are saying, hey, you know, I want to live where I have a supermarket, that's a 20-second walk away, and there's restaurants a 30-second walk away,” he said. “And there's musical performances, of all the concerts that happen in that area, that is attracted to that group. And right now, we've been really marketing that program hard for about three days now.
“And we're hoping to address, with a lot of activity that's been happening, if there wasn't enough quality apartments or single-family homes, and having projects that are taking those on to help people out at all phases of their life when they're starting off in a career or ready to, you know, have that big single family home for their growing family, or they're on the other side of that, and they're looking for the type of housing where they don't need a big house anymore, having all those available is really the key to having viability in our housing market,” he said. “So I guess a single project doesn't doesn't solve it for every one of those scenarios, but it's a piece of solving it with many others.”
Savarino Companies has been taking names of interested tenants for the complex, which is to open this summer. For more information, go to ellicottstation.com.
File Photo of Ellicott Station's progress in January 2023, by Howard Owens.