Josh Cohen is heading to Erie to celebrate the launch of the extensive, multi-million dollar renovation of the downtown Richford Arms apartment complex.
Cohen, the development president of the Boston-based apartment complex owner, Flagship communities, will be joined by Erie Mayor Joe Schamber, representatives from Erie Insurance and other local officials on Monday afternoon to officially launch the $27 million project.
The event will take place at 2:30 p.m. Erie Art Museum Holstein Gallery, 20 E. Fifth St., which is near the 100-unit Richford Arms building at 515 State St.
The Beacon Communities upgrade plan in Richford Arms — which provides affordable housing for low- and middle-income downtown residents — is being fueled by a $3.5 million low-interest loan from Erie Insurance, the Fortune 500 company whose downtown campus is adjacent to the apartment complex, and $2.45 million in loans from the city of Erie.
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Cohen added that Erie Insurance’s funding is “unprecedented” for the company’s affordable housing developments nationwide.
“For a Fortune 500 neighbor who’s not in the affordable housing business to see the importance of this and decide to make a major investment, that’s a rewarding and unique thing for us,” Cohen said. “And the city of Erie has also been extremely supportive of this project.
“We view this as an official groundbreaking celebration that allows us to recognize all the hard work that has gotten us to this point,” Cohen said. “We believe that good affordable housing is an integral part of a thriving city. »
Richford Arms tenants range from people in their mid-20s to those in their early 90s. Tenants receive Section 8 housing benefits or other assistance through the federal government. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Planned improvements include a new entrance for residents; an elevated outdoor terrace with seating, planters and lighting; a new two-storey addition to the north of the building, on the site of the existing Richford Arms car park, which would include a kitchen area, TV room, new laundry room, wellness/fitness centre, support offices and storage, as well as six new apartments.
Also included are improvements to the retail storefronts on the ground floor of the building, new common areas for wellness programs, and renovations to various apartments and hallways.
Preliminary work has begun on the apartment complex, according to Beacon Communities officials. Cohen said Beacon hopes the work will be completed by December.
Richford Arms resident Ethel Wheat, 72, is excited.
“I can’t wait. Everything is going to be new and that’s the best thing,” Wheat said. “They are already working on a lot of things.”
Distribution of funding
Erie Insurance invested in the Richford Arms project “as part of the company’s long-standing commitment to downtown Erie,” company spokesman Matthew Cummings said.
“Beyond the financial lift that our low-interest loan brings to the project, our partnership with Beacon has allowed us to learn more about the company and its approach to improving the quality of life of its residents. “said Cummings.
“Beacon’s commitment to this project and the residents of Richford Arms aligns with our vision of a diverse and equitable community and our downtown revitalization efforts.
The city of Erie has approved two loans for the project, totaling $2.45 million.
One is a 30-year, $1.7 million interest-free loan that comes from three federal sources: Home Investment Partnerships funds, Community Development Block Grant program money, and dollars allocated to the city via coronavirus aid, relief and economic security. Act.
The money used to provide the loan to Beacon Communities from these three sources, according to Debra Smith, the city’s director of economic development, was allocated to the city between 2017 and 2021 but was not spent on further development. other projects.
HOME funds are used by the city for projects that emphasize homeownership opportunities, promote neighborhood stabilization and help develop rental properties for low- and middle-income residents.
Erie uses CDBG funds each year for community projects such as street paving, sidewalk improvements, housing programs and homeless shelters, as well as to partially fund a number of local agencies. non-profit social service organizations and community centers in Erie.
The city typically receives over $3 million in CDBG and HOME funds, combined, each year.
CARES Act dollars are emergency funds the city received in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is also providing Beacon Communities with a $750,000 loan exclusively from the city’s HOME dollars. Federal guidelines allow the city to lend money to Beacon Communities interest-free, Smith said, because the funds are used to create or improve affordable housing.
Schamber said the Richford Arms project is providing a much-needed boost to affordable housing in Erie.
City officials said the Richford Arms project complements recent multi-million dollar investments in the downtown area by groups such as Erie Insurance, the downtown erie partnership and the Erie Downtown Development Corp.
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“We are excited about the opportunity to positively impact residents’ quality of life and look forward to seeing the renovations,” Schamber said.
“This project complements the many other projects underway that are transforming downtown Erie, and we appreciate Beacon Communities for their investment, commitment and confidence in Erie.”
Much of the Richford Arms work is funded by $12 million in tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
These tax credit programs allow businesses to invest in housing-related projects. In exchange, these companies recover a percentage of their financial investment through tax credits.
Cohen said PHFA funding for the project provides about $1.2 million per year for 10 years, for a total of about $12 million.
Formerly the luxurious 400-room Ford Hotel, Richford Arms opened in May 1928, billed as “Erie’s first fireproof hotel.”
The building later became known as the Richford Hotel.
Cohen said no residents of Richford Arms will be displaced by the renovations, although some residents may need to make a “one-time move” to a newly renovated apartment as the work progresses.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Cohen said, highlights the importance of upgrades.
“The pandemic has kind of underscored and pulled back the curtain on how vulnerable people are when they don’t have housing stability,” Cohen said. “It underscores the critical importance, to us, of affordable housing assets like Richford Arms and it absolutely underscored our mission.”