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Neighbors applies for state funding for rental rehabs

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So far, all the focus has been on new construction to fill a need for rental housing for Fort Drum soldiers.

But Neighbors of Watertown Inc. is putting together a $2 million to $2.5 million program to rehabilitate the area’s existing rental housing stock. The program would target Fort Drum soldiers and moderate-income tenants.

Neighbors executive director Gary C. Beasley, who is spearheading the efforts, said he fears that existing rental housing will deteriorate as tenants move into new apartment complexes and their old apartments become vacant.

As part of those efforts, Neighbors submitted a grant application to the North Country Regional Economic Council by today’s deadline to seek $1 million in funding from the Empire State Development to fix up rental housing.

“It’ll add to the housing stock and revitalize the community,” he said.

The Development Authority of the North Country has agreed to contribute $250,000 in matching funding. About $1.2 million would also come from the Jefferson County and city of Watertown Community Development Block Grant programs, and the remaining amount from the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency.

The use of ESD funding in this way would be unique, Mr. Beasley said.

Plans call for setting up a revolving loan program for landlords, much as ones used for small business projects. The program would provide landlords low-interest loans to fix up their properties.

Prospective tenants would be Fort Drum soldiers or civilian households with incomes above 80 percent median incomes, which usually do not quality for traditional state funding for rental rehab work, he said.

It’s also difficult for the private sector to obtain conventional financing from a bank for these kind of apartments, Mr. Beasley said.

The target area would be a 20-mile radius of Fort Drum, including the city of Watertown’s deteriorating housing stock.

Landlords could borrow as much as $20,000 per unit for such work as moderate rehabs, getting units up to building codes and fixing health and safety problems. As Mr. Beasley envisions it, the program would handle rental housing with one to 12 units, but would focus on buildings that have one to four units.

On Wednesday, Mr. Beasley and Neighbors were still working to see if the ESD would be able to fund the $1 million, he said. They got the go-ahead and he planned to work on the application through the weekend.

Mr. Beasley brought up the $1 million application at Thursday’s Advantage Watertown meeting. In recent months, he and an ad-hoc housing committee have been discussing ways to improve Watertown’s rental housing stock.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said John K. Bartow Jr., executive director of the Tug Hill Commission.

Not only would it improve rental housing, neighborhoods would get a boost, it would add to the tax base, provide jobs for local contractors and could continue into the future as landlords pay back the 3 percent loans, officials said.

To meet the need for more than 1,000 rental units for soldiers, apartment complexes have sprung up in the town and city of Watertown and the town of LeRay in the past couple of years.

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