UPDATED: 1/4/22 — 12:50 P.M.
BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The Binghamton City Council voted Tuesday to earmark $3 million for renovations at the Town and Country Apartments. The 253-unit complex primarily serves low-income residents on the city’s North Side.
But the council’s decision to use funds from the American Rescue Plan for the project has faced pushback.
The plan to overhaul Town and Country dates back to 2019, when Boston-based developer J.E. Properties signed on to purchase and renovate it for an estimated $38 million. The project will provide complete interior and exterior renovations to the complex, including new flooring, appliances, fencing and security.
Binghamton Mayor Rich David said the pandemic put the plan on pause. He now wants to commit some of the city’s COVID-19 relief money to move the project along. David said doing so could also help get state funding.
“The state was looking for the resolution to symbolize or finalize the city’s commitment to this project,” David told the council during a work session on Dec. 20.
J.E. Properties applied for New York’s low-income housing tax credit subsidies through New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Housing Finance Agency in 2019, according to the mayor’s office.
When meeting with the sitting council in October 2019, Joe Eddy of J.E. Properties said that if approved for the program they would have to comply with certain affordability requirements. That includes keeping apartments fixed to tenants’ incomes and rents stable.
“We’re not raising rents, and we’re not permanently displacing anyone,” Eddy told the then-council.
J.E. Properties would have to keep those apartments at a set affordable rate for the entire period for which they are required to comply. Eddy said that is typically 30 years.
As of 2019, the apartment complex had around 100 units set aside for residents in the housing choice voucher program, known as Section 8. It ensures that residents pay no more than 30% of their monthly income. Eddy said the company would contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to increase that to 200 apartments.
Councilwoman Aviva Friedman has repeatedly called on the city to allocate money from the American Rescue Plan toward affordable housing. She said residents of the Town and Country Apartments, which is part of her district, frequently voice concerns about safety and poor maintenance.
“I’ve received multiple videos and complaints about sewage coming up through the drains into the apartments and flooding the bathrooms and into the carpets, and like really horrible stuff,” Friedman said on Tuesday.
But she questioned whether a privately-owned housing project is the best use for “once in a lifetime” federal funding.
“If there’s a company that’s going to invest $38 million, why are we using taxpayer funds to invest an additional $3 million?” Friedman asked. “It doesn’t add up.”
Some also expressed concerns about a lack of transparency in the project.
Councilman Giovanni Scaringi said he agreed that council members and residents of the apartments should be part of the conversation, but noted that the money is only “encumbered”, or earmarked, not spent.
“The beauty of only encumbering the money is that we can un-encumber it,” he said.
Scaringi added that he approves the plan to fund the project, as long as the council retains control of contracts with the developer.
Eddy said that the renovations will be done one building at a time so that no residents are displaced. Construction is expected to take two years, although officials have not indicated when that would start.
The Broome County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved an application for a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT agreement, from J.E. Properties in August 2019, as well as a sales tax exemption of up to nearly $1.5 million. The IDA, however, told WSKG this week the developer elected to not go through with the project and therefore are not slated to receive any benefits from the agency.
J.E. Properties owner Joe Eddy could not be reached for comment.*
*This story was updated to reflect new information from the Broome County IDA regarding the PILOT agreement with J.E. Properties.