ITHACA, N.Y.—As plans for redevelopment of a parking lot on Inlet Island slowly but steadily move forward, non-profit housing developer Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is prepping its contribution to the redevelopment with a new apartment building that’ll have some lovely waterfront views.
The project, called “the Beacon,” would be built on the west side of Inlet Island between the Waterfront Trail and Taughannock Boulevard. Early concepts of the project used the name “the Anchor,” but the name of the development has since been revised. The project would be a component but separately-developed from Finger Lakes Development’s plans for an extended-stay “home-tel,” revised boating, and recreational spaces on the city-owned parking lot on Inlet Island.
As proposed, the Beacon would be a five-story, 55-unit apartment project serving people making 30% to 100% of area median income (AMI), with most of the units set aside for households making 60% AMI or less. For reference, 60% AMI is an individual making at or less than $42,120 per year, or a two-person household making less than $48,120 per year.
Interspersed within the building will be nine units set aside for nine households exiting homelessness that have a household member impacted by a substance use disorder. The effort is part of a more inclusive approach adopted by low-moderate income housing developers in recent years to service households with specialized needs who have traditionally been illegible for income-limited housing.
In the project description, INHS states the specialized needs tenants will receive wrap-around supportive services provided by Catholic Charities of Tompkins County. Core services will include individual case management, drug and alcohol counseling through partner agencies, safety planning and assistance with obtaining public benefits. Regular group meetings will provide life skills training on topics such as financial literacy, rental stewardship, expressing emotions, and improving communication. Twenty-four/seven on-call crisis support will also be provided by Catholic Charities.
In addition, three units within the building would be fully adapted and move-in ready for individuals with mobility impairment, and two other units will be fully adapted for a person with a hearing or visual impairment.
“Stable, high-quality, well-located affordable housing allows lower-income people the financial breathing room they need to tackle their particular barriers to financial stability, whether that be debt reduction, medical costs, various barriers to employment or advancement, educational/training needs, and more. Stable, affordable housing is the foundation upon which lower-income households can build more prosperous lives,” INHS said in it’s project description.
The current unit layout, which is often subject to tweaks during the Site Plan Review process, calls for seven studio apartments, 34 one-bedroom apartments and 14 two-bedroom home apartments. The special needs units are a similar mix to the overall count: two studios, five one-bedrooms and two two-bedroom units. Amenities include a community room, laundry rooms, rental office, service provider office for the specialized needs units and covered parking and bike storage. Broadband internet would be provided to residents free of charge.
The Beacon is planned as an all-electric building, targeting the Passive House standard. The design is to include balconies for each unit as well as a private outdoor patio for residents at the first floor level facing the water. Sixteen round-level parking spaces would be screened from public view, and EV charging stations are to be provided on the site.
The project has an estimated cost of just under $23 million. INHS plans to submit the project for Planning Board review later this year, with the hope of having all necessary approvals in place by the end of 2023. If the project is able to obtain local and state affordable housing grants in the spring of 2024, INHS predicts a construction start that fall and an opening in summer 2025 (which, to be honest, seems a little optimistic on construction timelines, as similar deep-foundation projects of this size have needed approximately one full year for buildout).
As is often the case with low-moderate income housing, conventional bank construction loans will not cover the full cost because these projects don’t have the return on investment that a higher-priced market-rate development does. As a result, funding is cobbled together from a variety of sources. In this case, INHS is planning a convention loan to cover about half of its cost, about $2 million in investments and deferred fees on its end, and the rest is from grant funding.
More specifically, INHS applying to the city for a $199,000 housing grant from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), $300,000 from the county and $9.25 million from the state. That includes grant applications for the specialized needs units, grant the state Clean Energy Initiative Program and New York State and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits that can be sold in exchange for construction funds. It gets a little complicated, but The Voice has a handy explainer about the affordable housing funding process here.
Long story short, the process is really competitive (about one in four applications are funded in a given state LIHTC cycle), and while INHS has a strong record of obtaining funding, it’s an uncertain process that involves just as much luck as it does having a strong, well-rounded application. It definitely helps if the city and county funds are earmarked prior to state application review, as it would demonstrate local support for the Beacon.
According to INHS Director of Community Relations Justina Fetterly, revised renderings of the building by Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects are not yet ready, but general site plan imagery shows a fairly simple rectangular building with covered parking accessible from its south end. Landscaping design work appears to be provided by Ithaca firm Whitham Planning and Design, according to site plan document in the submission package.
We’ll keep you posted on the project as it goes through the Site Plan Review and state grant process. With plenty of effort and some luck, a beacon for affordable housing may one day rise on Inlet Island.