New housing complex opens
WATERLOO -- July 19 did not turn out to be exactly the type of day organizers had hoped for as they planned the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Elizabeth Crossings, a new apartment complex for low-income families.
Participants waited uncertainly in the complex's brightly lit community room for a few minutes before braving the steady rain and walking across the parking lot to a tent set up for the occasion. Once everyone arrived under the tent the rain poured down even harder, at times threatening to drown out the voices of the speakers and dignitaries. After the ceremony, a few hardy souls with golf umbrellas took turns shuttling participants through the driving rain and back to the community room.
Even this driving rain, however, could not dampen the atmosphere of joy and celebration in the community room, where tenants and housing-agency officials dried off and enjoyed a catered lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers.
"This is a great day for us," said Maurice "Mo" Vaughn, cofounder and managing director of Omni New York LLC.
Omni New York partnered with Mill Plain Properties and Bishop Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation Inc., a joint venture of Rochester's Roman Catholic and Episcopal dioceses, to build 40 rental units for families whose income is between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area's median income. Bishop Sheen Housing has initiated or assisted with the development of a number of housing projects in the area, including the Fort Hill senior-citizen apartments in Canandaigua and Bloomfield Meadows, a senior-living community in Bloomfield.
"Something that we need in upstate New York is affordable housing," said Allyn Smith, Bishop Sheen Housing's executive director. "Waterloo welcomed us and we built a relationship with Omni and it just flew from there."
Former major-league baseball player Vaughn, who played for the Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels and New York Mets, founded Omni New York in 2004 with his attorney, Eugene Schneur. Vaughn and Schneur have since purchased and rehabilitated nine properties in New York state -- most in the New York City area -- and one property in Gillette, Wyo., Schneur said.
"We only do affordable housing. There's a need for affordable housing all over the country," he added.
Elizabeth Crossings marks a departure from routine for the for-profit company, which until recently had only rehabilitated existing buildings rather than constructing new ones, Vaughn said.
"This is 40 units of new construction, which is new for us. We're pleasantly surprised with how this looks," he said.
Construction started on the apartment complex in July 2006 and was completed in May. Construction was completed in stages, and the first tenants were able to move into their apartments in March, Schneur said.
The project went smoothly and was finished on time and on budget, added Mill Plain Properties' Robert Bennet.
Word of the new complex spread quickly, and all of the units were filled by the time of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Smith said.
"It demonstrates the need we have in our rural communities," said Smith, who hopes tenants eventually will become homeowners. "We're giving them a leg up, and then we'll help them with closing costs and mortgage reduction."
Elizabeth Crossings tenants may take advantage of Bishop Sheen Housing's home-ownership assistance program and will be provided with information about home ownership, Smith said.
Bishop Sheen Housing hired Providence Housing Development Corp., an affiliate of the Rochester Diocese, to manage the property.
Families may rent Elizabeth Crossings apartments for between $245 and $640 a month, depending on each family's size and income and the size of the apartment, said Helen Bianchi, Providence's director of asset management. Heat is included in the tenants' rent, and tenants are responsible for paying for their own electricity, she added.
"Our goal is to make sure families have an affordable, safe, decent place to live. This particular property was exciting to us because (Seneca County) was a new county that we hadn't worked in before," said Monica McCullough, Providence's executive director.
Elizabeth Crossings tenant Paul Carrasquillo said he moved into the complex about two months ago and is very happy with it so far. He uses a wheelchair and is pleased with the complex's accessibility and affordability.
"It was affordable and it was brand-new, so we knew it would be a good rental," fellow tenant Jessica Dean said.
Elizabeth Crossings' developers seemed at least as happy as the tenants during the drenched ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"It's a good day. We are very proud of ourselves and we're very happy," Vaughn said. "Hopefully we can spread the word (that) as a company, we try to do the right things and the good things, and we can do this again in the future."
"How many things can you do that are a win-win all around? For the town of Waterloo, the tenants, the state, our company," he said. "How many areas can you get into that are all positive?"