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DEC 17 - DEC 24, 2015

Housing Authority a Key Player in Commodification of Human Services

By Mike Hudson

DEC 17, 2015

The taxpayer subsidized housing in Beloved Community cost about $300,000 per unit to develop. This shows that the poverty industry can be very lucrative for builders and developers.

Perhaps no agency has benefitted more from the commodification of poverty in Niagara Falls in recent years than the city’s Housing Authority.

Created in 1942 to provide housing for soldiers, sailors, Marines and others involved in the war effort, the agency has evolved through the years to provide not only housing, but also a variety of programs and services to meet the needs of the disadvantaged Niagara Falls community.

Job training and development programs, career readiness instruction, computer instruction, after-school tutorial programs, health and wellness workshops, parenting classes, financial literacy and senior citizens activities all now fall under the Housing Authority’s aegis.

“We are dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency and improving the overall quality of life of those that we serve,” said Stephanie Cowart, the Housing Authority’s executive director. “We are committed to empowering and enriching the Niagara Falls community.”

Promoting self-sufficiency is a lofty goal but critics question whether taxpayer subsidized public housing – the main product offered by Cowart and her agency – is an effective way of going about it.

Consider the HOPE VI housing project – now known as Beloved Community – an $80 million construction project that resulted in the creation of 215 housing units on Calumet Avenue, the site of the old Center Court housing project.

By dividing the $80 million cost by the resulting 215 units, one will quickly see that each unit of subsidized housing cost the taxpayers a bit over $372,000. Since the median value for a single family home in the city is just $62,000, those living in Beloved Community are actually enjoying a somewhat affluent lifestyle, with their homes valued at six times what the average Niagara Falls resident is able to afford.

Taking the plunge into “self-sufficiency” – and away from Section 8 and other housing subsidy programs – would undoubtedly lower the standard of living for anyone lucky enough to have been granted space in Beloved Community.

According to the Housing Authority website, not all of the units are occupied by the “low to moderate income” class that makes up much of the subsidized housing market in Niagara Falls, but no numbers are available concerning those who might be paying anything near what the market rate would be on what amount to luxury condominiums.

The Housing Authority also controls the projects at Jordan Gardens and Packard Court – two of the city’s high crime hotspots – Spallino Towers on 10th Street near Portage Road and Wrobel Towers on North Main Street. In all, more than 1,000 units of city housing are administered by the authority.






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