A vacant building on Cherry Street will be redeveloped as a housing project over the next few years, following the sale of the property to Evergreen Health Services, a medical and social support group primarily catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, as well as patients suffering from HIV or AIDS.
Evergreen bought the five-story, 75,000-square-foot building, which sits between Spring and Hickory streets, for $750,000.
The building was most recently owned by Sonic Blinds and was built in the late 19th century for a trunk-manufacturing company.
Justin Azzarella of Evergreen said the company and its development team – which includes LPCiminelli, Preservation Studios, Southern Tier Environments for Living and SWBR Architects of Rochester – is applying for historic and low-income tax credits in the fall.
If Evergreen is awarded the tax credits, Azzarella said, the housing should be ready by 2016; if not, it would be delayed by another year.
The housing will be open to all homeless people, but many of the tenants will come from Evergreen’s current clients and identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Discrimination and intolerance have led the LGBT population to disproportionately suffer from homelessness, Azzarella said.
“Particularly for younger folks in the LGBT population, they may be leaving home at a young age because they haven’t had a safe environment at home,” Azzarella said.
The building will be called The Evergreen Lofts and will house 50 apartment units, Evergreen officials said. Tenants will have access to the company’s many medical and social services. They will pay some of their rent, and the rest will come from state or federal subsidies – similar to the Section 8 voucher program.
Azzarella said people who are transgendered are especially at risk for homelessness. He gave the example of a male who identifies as a female.
“When they go in to register at a local shelter, they’re told that they have to be in the men’s area,” Azzarella said. “And it can just make for a difficult situation.”
The Evergreen Lofts will serve as a “Housing First” apartment complex, marked by a philosophy of placing homeless people directly into stable housing rather than guiding them through a step-by-step program designed to address other issues before finding housing.
Evergreen’s affiliates include Community Access Services of Western New York, which works to treat HIV and AIDS, and The Pride Center, which seeks to make the Buffalo area a safer place to live for the LGBT population.