Historic NY Factory to Get $64M Makeover

East House and MM Advisors will transform the 19th-century brick structure into affordable units.

Canal Commons. Image courtesy of John Smillie

East House and MM Development Advisors are bringing a fully affordable community to Rochester, N.Y. The partnership started construction on Canal Commons located in Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, which will revitalize a former manufacturing facility into 123 affordable and supportive units. The project is expected to be completed in June 2024.

The $64 million development will include 81 one-bedroom units, 41 two-bedrooms and one studio apartment, all of which will be energy-efficient units. The affordable units will also be reserved for households making up to 60 percent of area median income, while 70 of the units will offer supportive services and be reserved for those with serious mental illness, substance use disorders, or those experiencing chronic homelessness. Canal Commons will also have 17 units for those who are mobility impaired and five units for those who have hearing or vision impairments.

The project will be an adaptive reuse of the former Utz and Dunn Shoe Co. building. Developers are planning to retain the building’s industrial elements, such as exposed structural columns, plank ceilings and historic finishes. Plans call for the demolition of two one-story buildings that serve as a garage and loading dock but don’t have any historical significance.

The project landed financing from several sources, including $2.1 million in permanent tax-exempt bonds from the state, low-income housing tax credits that will generate $20 million in equity and $13 million from New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Supportive Housing Opportunity program. The New York Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation approved income tax credits that will generate $12.8 million in equity, while the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is providing $7.4 million from its Homeless Housing Assistance program. The Office of Mental Health is also providing $1.75 million a year in operational funding and a $335,000 grant for start-up costs.

From vacant factory to affordable housing

The building was first constructed in the 19th century for the James Cunningham & Son Co. The five-story brick structure operated as a shoe factory from the 1910s to the 1950s but has been vacant for more than a decade. After its former life, the site was remediated through the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfield Cleanup Program.

Now getting a third life as a supportive housing community, Canal Commons will align with the state’s Finger Lakes Forward strategy to focus on the economic development of upstate New York. The New York governor also recently enacted a state budget that included a $25 billion, five-year comprehensive housing plan. The plan is aimed at creating or preserving 100,000 affordable homes across New York, 10,000 of which will have support services for vulnerable populations.

In the last decade, NYS HCR has also invested more than $500 million in Monroe County where Canal Commons is located. That investment has led to nearly 6,000 homes, including the recently completed 270 on East in Rochester’s Inner Loop neighborhood, and Pueblo Nuevo’s second phase that converted an empty warehouse into 29 affordable and supportive homes in the city’s El Camino neighborhood.

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