A new project in Elmira, led by a Catholic Charities-affiliated agency, will provide affordable housing for area residents with mental illnesses.
Groundbreaking took place June 15 at the site of the future McNiff Commons, 401 Powell St. The structure, to be completed over the next seven months, will consist of 11 one-bedroom units.
Funding for McNiff Commons is being arranged through Providence Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit agency of diocesan Catholic Charities. Providence Housing also is serving as property manager.
“There appears to be a need for independent housing for people that have a diagnosis of mental illness,” said Jane Lange, deputy director of Providence Housing. She noted that rent, including heat, is expected to be less than $400 a month per occupant. Lange added that referrals for housing will be made through Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler. That agency also may end up providing services for some residents.
“It’s going to offer individuals greater choice in their living accommodations,” said Bridget Steed, executive director of Chemung/Schuyler Catholic Charities. “It’s going to be a very positive opportunity for persons in this community to access affordable housing that will be safe. It really will be a beautiful facility.”
The new apartments in Elmira are being named in honor of Sister Rene McNiff, RSM, who served as administrator, chief executive officer and president of Hornell’s St. James Mercy Hospital from 1966 to 1996 with the exception of a 1990 sabbatical. In addition, Sister McNiff — who died in 1999 at age 76 — was chairperson of the diocesan Catholic Charities board and “an integral force in getting Catholic Charities to establish agencies and boards in Steuben and Livingston counties,” noted Anthony Barbaro, associate diocesan director of Catholic Charities who also is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
“She was one of the most capable, compassionate and politically savvy leaders I’ve worked with in my tenure,” Barbaro added.
Lange said that land for McNiff Commons was purchased earlier this year from the City of Elmira for a nominal sum. The project’s estimated cost is $2.4 million. It is being funded through a combination of public and private partners, including the state Housing Trust Fund Corp., The Richman Group, KeyBank, Providence Housing, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York through member bank HSBC.
LeCesse Construction is serving as the new development’s construction firm, and SWBR Architects is the designer. Both companies are based in Rochester. Lange said McNiff Commons is being modeled after the 13-unit St. Andrew’s Apartments, which is located on the campus of the diocesan Pastoral Center in Rochester and serves people with mental illnesses. Providence also led the establishment of St. Andrew’s, which opened in 2003 and has proven quite successful thus far.
“We haven’t had any vacancies to speak of. St. Andrew’s has been terrific,” Lange said.
Providence Housing, founded in Rochester in 1994, helps build affordable housing for individuals and families in numerous locations across the diocese. McNiff Commons will mark the second project that Providence has developed in the Southern Tier. The other, Clemens Manor, also is in Elmira. Located at 201 E. Church St. in the former YMCA building, Clemens Manor is a 30-apartment complex for senior citizens.