Uncertainty over historic tax credits looms over conversion of former School 44

Dec 5, 2017

Plans for a major affordable housing project are going ahead after approval by the Buffalo Planning Board Monday. However, developers are watching Washington closely, where the new tax bill might cripple the financing.

The plan calls for turning the old School 44 in the Broadway-Fillmore community into 82 units of housing at a cost in the high $20 million range. Financing would come from historic tax credits and state housing loans, both of which might be hit in the final tax bill.

"The caution is that, depending upon where this tax program goes, it could have a major effect on the funding and the capacity of projects that come from the state," says Architect Steve Carmina. "So we're very wary of that and worried about what the next five years are going to bring."

Carmina says the goal at the moment is to start construction in June or July and spend 13 months on the conversion, watching D.C. carefully to make sure the financing system stays in place to allow construction. Carmina says this is a solid building.

"It has a lot to do with the fact that most of these schools that are receiving historic tax credits were all built around the same period of time," he says, "when Buffalo was booming and the neighborhoods were booming and those schools that were built in the late 1800s, early 1900s all received the same types of additions in the '30s, '40s and '50s."

This is the latest former school building to be turned into housing. Carmina is working with developers Rhonda Ricks and Stuart Alexander, who have other projects in the works on the city's East Side, especially a large project on Broadway closer to downtown, a site once occupied by Buffalo Forge.

Carmina says the former School 44 will be mostly one-bedroom units, with some two- and three-bedroom units. The plan is to rent to people starting families who can move into larger apartments in School 44 before eventually shifting into the private rental market.

"Families, young couples, just married, it gives them some room to grow within the building," he says, "and, hopefully with everything that's happening downtown, the Medical Campus and new jobs that are being created, these folks will be those who are new job holders in the campus that are going to watch their salaries increase so that they can work their way through into more market-rate housing."