Having to spend nine months out of her apartment was well worth it for Maureen Ferris. The old Colonial I apartments were “clean but old, outdated,” she said Thursday, as visitors toured her renovated apartment with its new floor, appliances and fresh paint with its view of a pond out the windows.
Ferris welcomed the out-of-town guests as part of the ribbon cutting and rededication Thursday of Colonial I Apartments after an extensive renovation and updating of the 53-year-old housing complex on St. Peter’s Avenue run by the Rome Housing Authority. Her 14-year-old Russian blue cat, Gomez, watched calmly but warily from the bedroom.
Ferris and Gomez stayed in a private apartment for nine months while her part of the circa-1966 building was renovated. Disabled with the autoimmune disorder sarcoidosis three spinal fusions and several carpal tunnel syndrome, Ferris is able to live near her daughter and two grandchildren because of Colonial I and its affordability, where there are income-eligibility rules.
“If everyone in this building were to move out tomorrow, it would probably fill up within a week because people are in need,” Ferris said.
Thursday’s brief ceremony brought representatives from government and private-sector entities involved, including Rome Mayor Jacqueline Izzo, state Sen. Joe Griffo, R-47th Dist. of Rome, and Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119th Dist. of Marcy, and Beacon Communities, the Boston-based company that managed the rehabilitation in a partnership with the Rome Housing Authority and principal lender J.P. Morgan Chase bank.
The work included energy-efficiency upgrades, including adding LED lighting, a new heating plant with efficient condensing boilers, temperature controls to each apartment, low-flow plumbing fixtures, a new roof with added insulation, and new windows and doors. The exterior skin of brick, some of which was failing, was replaced with an insulated panel system. The total cost is $22 million.
In addition, the building’s accessibility to people with disabilities was improved, with nine units for people with mobility impairment and four more for those with vision or hearing impairment. Features in those units include audible or flashing alarms, and Braille signage was added throughout.
In corridors, tile floors were replaced with carpet to brighten and quiet the space, and the mailboxes were moved from the drafty vestibule to the first-floor interior.
“It feels more like a home now,” said Rome Housing Authority Executive Director Maureen Birmingham, prompting nods of agreement from several of the residents gathered in the Colonial I community room.
All apartments are affordable to households with incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median Income. The 83 units of Section 8 project-based vouchers are provided through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing Assistance Payments contract, according to office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which announced the re-dedication.
The New York State Department of Homes and Community Renewal awarded federal low-income housing tax credits, which leveraged over $18.8 million in equity for the project and $83,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The Rome Housing Authority provided $2.1 million.
“This project is a declaration of
confidence in the city of Rome and its revitalization efforts,” said Darren Scott, upstate east director of the state housing agency.
Beacon Communities is paid a fee for the work but will not remain an owner, and will leave the partnership in early 2020 after some small remaining renovation tasks are done, said company president Duncan Barrett. The company is involved in some 19,000 apartment units from Kentucky to Maine, including the senior apartments Meadows at Middle Settlement in New Hartford.
The Home Housing Authority serves 1,090 people at Colonial I and II, the Valentine Apartments on Turin Street and Liberty Garden off North Levitt Street and through housing voucher programs. Renovations at nearby Colonial II, which dates from the early 1970s, are being planned, Birmingham said.
At Colonial I, the renovation was phased by section of the building. Some residents were able to move into unoccupied units in another section rather than to off-site housing.
In addition to the large-scale renovation, smaller amenities were added or improved, such as a more accessible computer room off the community room. Otherwise, residents pay for their own utilities, phone and cable television. Rent includes heat; residents pay for electricity, and there’s an on-site laundry facility. The income guideline translates to about $24,500 for a one-person household, but many residents get by on basic Social Security or disability benefits and a more typical annual income is less than $15,000, Birmingham said.
There’s a wellness room for regular programming such as blood pressure screenings. Tenants are making plans, too. Ferris has started a social group among tenants to hold regular community dinners.
“A lot of people in these buildings don’t have anyone,” she explained. “I thought it would be a way for them to get to know each other and maybe make new friends.”