Niagara Gazette —
City lawmakers were updated Monday on the Community Development Department's plan to reimburse college graduates and graduate students for their loans in an effort to lure them to Niagara Falls.
The Downtown Housing Incentive Program, now rebranded as Live NF, will offer to pay up to $7,000 - $3,500 a year for two years - worth of student loans for people who move into a designated section of downtown.
Seth Piccirillo, the city's director of community development, said that since creating the program in June his department has spent $210 - though there is a $900 advertising bill upcoming - and that a two to one return on investment has been created.
"We've also applied for a $250,000 grant in addition for mixed-use buildings in a target area," Piccirillo said. "If that's received, we'll be at a three to one return on investment on hard costs."
Piccirillo said the department was also able to use the program to help leverage a federal public safety program that will use data-driven policing support to help the Niagara Falls Police Department target property theft and violent crimes.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D - N.Y., was in the city last week to announce the program.
"Our conversation with Senator Schumer's office started with Live NF and a link between public safety and attracting and keeping residents," Piccirillo said.
Since opening up the application process in September, Piccirillo said his department has received 27 applications for 20 available spots. An independent review panel will choose applicants through a review process that favors Niagara Falls residents and participants looking to buy homes in the designated area, Piccirillo said.
"Home ownership is a goal of this program and my department as a whole," Piccirillo said.
Piccirillo said members of the review board will choose applicants considered most likely to continue to live in Niagara Falls after their participation in the program has ended.
"The goal of Live NF is to proactively attract and retain residents in order to succeed as a city long-term rather than trying to survive year to year," Piccirillo said.
The plan has been met with skepticism by Council Chairman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Glenn Choolokian. They have expressed concerns over whether participants in the program will stay in the city after reaping the benefits of the loan repayments.
Fruscione said the council requested the update to get a better idea of how far along the program is, being that participation in Live NF will begin next year.
"We knew it was going to take place in 2013 so we wanted to see where we were at," Fruscione said.
Fruscione considers the program easily exploitable and he predicts that very few of the participants will remain in the city after they have reached the $7,000 limit for loan repayment.
"That's what's going to happen," Fruscione said. "You watch."
In other matters, the council:
• Unanimously approved the abandonment of a section of an alley between Third and Fourth streets north of Buffalo Avenue to make way for a new hotel. Frank Strangio, who owns the Quality Inn on Niagara Falls Boulevard with his brother and father, has plans to buy the property as part of a proposed hotel development project. The Strangio family has said that the deal was contingent on the abandonment of the alley, over which the hotel would be built. Ralph Guetta, who owns a house that abuts the alley, told city lawmakers Monday that he is all for the development of the hotel, so long as he does not have to pay for any of the utility changes that may come with the development.
• voted unanimously to appoint Noreen K. Hill to the Niagara Falls Library Board.
• Approved a resolution which will expand the Niagara Falls Library Board to be comprised of no less than five nor no more than nine trustees. Fruscione said the expansion is needed as the board, which previously had five trustees, often has trouble getting enough members to meetings to form a quorum needed for the board to take action.