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Buffalo News: Tax breaks for senior housing face new limits

Friday March 27, 2015

The Buffalo News.com

Tax breaks for senior housing in Erie County face new limits

County IDA policy aimed at market-rate apartments

BY: David Robinson   

Published: March 26, 2015, 06:44 PMUpdated: March 26, 2015, 06:44 PM

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency gave preliminary approval to a new county-wide policy that would place additional restrictions on tax breaks for senior housing projects, especially those that would build market-rate apartments aimed at middle- and upper-class seniors.

The policy is aimed at bringing the six IDAs in Erie County under a standard policy that provides guidelines on what types of senior housing projects could be eligible for tax breaks and which ones would not. The policy is the latest attempt by IDAs to tackle the often controversial topic of how to handle market-rate housing for senior citizens.

Only one IDA board member, Amherst Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein, voted against the new policy. "I'm opposed to incentivizing market-rate senior housing," Weinstein said. "It's not part of economic development. And unless it's a chronically vacant property, it's not part of community development."

Wednesday's vote does not give final approval to the policy. Instead, it sends the policy to all of Erie County's municipalities and school districts for comment over the next month. Once the comment period ends, the IDA could revise the policy before it takes a vote to formally approve it. The county's suburban IDAs will vote on the policy after that. 

The policy, approved earlier this month by the Erie County IDA's policy committee and sent to each of the county's IDAs for consideration, would cover for-profit senior citizen housing projects where at least 90 percent of the units are rented to, and occupied by, people who are at least 60 years old. The policy does not cover low-income, subsidized housing projects, which are eligible for incentives under different state laws; upscale senior housing projects; or "life care communities." 

Among the policy's nine guidelines for evaluating senior housing proposals, a project would be regarded more favorably if it has the written backing of local municipal officials and if it is located within the community's central area and falls within its master plan. Projects also would be evaluated favorably if they would help create walkable neighborhoods and if an independent market study shows a need within a particular neighborhood or community. 

The policy also favors projects with a significant portion of the population within a one-to-five-mile radius at or below median income levels, and developments that offer amenities and services that aren't available at other nearby senior housing. The ability of the developer to finance the project is another factor, as is whether it will be targeted toward — and at least half-occupied by — seniors whose income is at or below 60 to 80 percent of the county median income.

The agency also approved about $70,000 in additional tax breaks for an $8.1 million project by North American Salt Co., which is building a facility to import, package and ship bulk salt from a six-acre site in the Gateway Trade Center in Lackawanna. 

The project's costs swelled by $800,000 because of added expenses associated with wet and unfavorable ground conditions on the site. 

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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