|While the Niagara Falls Reporter opposes Seth Piccirillo’s LiveNF program, it is progressing, thus far, as promised.
|Dr. David Taylor heads the
selection committee for LiveNF program.
(Editor’s note: The Niagara Falls Reporter does not endorse the “LiveNF” program, based on the fact that it uses federal tax dollars to incentivize select people to relocate. We feel such social engineering is not the responsibility, duty or right of government. The program, nevertheless, has been approved and is ongoing. The Reporter believes the public has a right to be informed as to how it is progressing, according to its stated objectives, with fair and balanced reporting.)
Formerly known as the Downtown Housing Incentive Program (DHIP), the effort to reimburse college tuition for up to 20 people has now been dubbed “LiveNF” and is part of a larger scheme to develop a targeted area of Niagara Falls.
As described on the program’s website, www.Live-NF.com, “The City of Niagara Falls will reimburse the applicant for his annual student loan payment amount, up to but not exceeding, $3,492 a year and up to $6,984 during the full two-year term of the agreement. This reimbursement will be made directly to the applicant during his annual certification with the City.”
“We gave a report to the Council in December. Right now, we are still hitting our milestones,” said Seth Piccirillo, director of community development. “The applications are being reviewed right now and we are looking to have selections in February.”
The selections are being made by an independent panel of five community members chaired by Dr. David Taylor, director of Niagara University’s Institute for Civic Engagement. “In addition to the criteria of having student debt and being a recent college graduate within the time frame listed, there are essay sections where people can say why they want to be part of this community and why they are interested in this program,” Piccirillo explained.
“It’s not just about 20 people, it’s about having people from around our city and around the country look at Niagara Falls as a living destination. Twenty people is the limit, but it doesn’t mean that all 20 will be awarded in the first round of applicants.”
Though 35 applications have been received, not all will make it through the review process according to Dr. Taylor. “To be clear, though, the only applications that the committee is reviewing at this point are the ones (14 of them) that are complete AND that came in prior to the posted deadline. We thought this was only fair to those applicants who got everything in on time.”
The city recently received $450,000 from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council for the Downtown Niagara Falls Stabilization Project. According to the press release, it “is a strategic approach to revitalizing the downtown mixed-use commercial district and adjacent residential neighborhood.” It includes $160,000 to demolish blighted structures, $30,000 in matching grants for local businesses to improve storefronts and $200,000 to acquire property.
Piccirillo sees that as a major advancement. “That funding is to do capital improvements in the target area. So the way that I look at it, we started out with a $200,000 project and received $450,000 in grants for things that we need to do anyway. So this program has paid for itself twice over, and we’re at the beginning stages.”
Coupled with the recent announcement by Senator Chuck Schumer that Niagara Falls is one of eight cities nationwide to receive a Department of Justice grant to bring experts to study and address crime in targeted areas of the city, Live NF is drawing in resources. The Community Development Department also recently applied for a $250,000 State Housing and Community Revitalization grant to rehabilitate mixed-use buildings within the target area.
The LiveNF initiative is one program that is seemingly doing more with less. Though establishing a $200,000 budget out of non-general fund dollars, they have spent only $210 to date, not including $900 on advertising and $85 to develop the website, www.Live-NF.com, in house.
Piccirillo also wants to make it very clear, “no one’s salary is increasing with the administration funds of this program. What those funds actually do is lessen the burden on our administration budget. No one is taking a pay raise as a result of this program.”
The website includes a downloadable application and links to other private and public sector programs focused on small business start-ups, regional employment and home ownership. “If you are from Niagara Falls, you’re given first preference in this program. If you are buying a house, you are given first preference. Those are the two criteria that give you an advantage, because we know that home ownership is the ultimate goal,” insisted Piccirillo.
“The expectation is that these individuals will be heavily involved and engaged with us as we work to identify creative solutions to a number of problems facing our neighborhoods and our city. Not just anyone will do, so to speak,” Taylor said of the applicants. “We are looking for people who are willing to be urban pioneers and who have something to give to us and the community.”
Niagara Falls’ population loss is a major concern to Piccirillo, and that is why he is looking at the picture beyond the original DHIP proposal. “Our young people leave every year. We want to keep the Niagara Falls kids. We want them to stay here. So this is about keeping them and attracting others. The whole purpose behind this, when you look at the statistics on population loss, they’re scary. They show 50,000 in 50 years, but it’s 10% in the last 10 years. We need to get very pro-active about stopping population loss. Or in the next census, we’re going to have a lot of problems.”
“What I think is pretty interesting is that out of the 14 applications I referenced above, we have a number of local candidates but also candidates from Alabama, Oklahoma, California and Pennsylvania. So this bodes well in terms of a balance between keeping young and talented people here and attracting young and talented people from other parts of the country,” Taylor observed.