October 16, 2021

$12M facility for domestic abuse victims part of local development

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Employees and volunteers from development companies and nonprofit organizations gather in front of the Grace Brown House construction site. The 25-unit housing complex will provide affordable housing to victims of domestic abuse and their families.

The $12 million Grace Brown House on Homer Avenue is a place for fresh starts: fresh starts for people coming out of abusive and violent relationships; and fresh starts for a neighborhood that hasn’t seen as much development as it could have over the decades.

“This is the first development in that area in, I’m going to say, 15 or 20 years,” said Bruce Weber, Cortlandville’s town planning and zoning officer. “We’ve got the CNY Living History Center, and the village of Homer’s expansion and cleaning of the park down the river and the walkway through there — a lot of positive elements coming together to make quality of life better in the area.”

The museum is building an addition, and the village is developing a linear part along the Tioughnioga River.

The $12 million affordable housing development, which drew state officials to a media event on Thursday, will provide 25 apartments and services for families at risk of homelessness, many of whom would have been assisted by the YWCA’s Aid to Victims of Violence program.

Christopher Community, a nonprofit company based in Syracuse, developed the project and helped find funding through grants, and other state and federal programs.

Federal low-income housing tax credits will generate about $4.6 million in equity, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release. The Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, which is administered by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, is providing $1.9 million.

The governor’s office said the project is part of a $20 billion, five-year affordable housing plan meant to revitalize communities and generate economic growth.

“The history of why we have this project actually reaches back 45 years ago, when a group of women — members of the YWCA Cortland — got together to offer help in temporary shelter in their own homes for women fleeing violence,” said YWCA Housing Committee Chairwoman Angela Loh.

Between March 1, 2019, and March 1, 2020, the city saw 174 reported incidents of domestic disturbances, city police have said. In the same period a year later, it saw 374.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Aid to Victims of Violence program has received more than 3,800 hotline calls and has provided temporary shelter to 43 adults and 15 children for 30 days or more.

The project, in the making since 2015, began construction at the Homer Avenue site three months ago.

“I look forward to the completion of this project, it will be so much better to be able to help homeless women and children — survivors of domestic violence — and build their confidence in shaping their own world,” Loh said.

The Cortland YWCA expects families will move into the housing complex in spring 2022. The apartments are set at below-market rates, but residents will not be limited by their income. The YWCA and Christopher Communities will look for other means of funding to take care of the families.

Christopher Communities specializes in senior and elderly housing facilities across upstate New York, but it hadn’t developed a project for abuse survivors, said Kelly Besaw, the vice president of development.

“My favorite part of the job is the residents being able to move into a place to call home, and in this particular case they’re coming from a common problem,” Besaw said. “I started working with the housing committee right away, and I found that their stories about the families helped — I found that so motivating.”

The building itself will be secure, said Alice Anderson, member of the YWCA Housing Committee. All visitors will need to stop at a reception area.

“This is a secure building for individuals who need support in permanent housing,” she said. “We’re hoping that as they come in, it will become their home.”