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A Template for Other Communities

Updated: Apr 23

By Daniel Ladue • Photos Supplied

Despite being sparsely populated in relation to the rest of New York State, the North Country (and by “North Country” I mean the broad swath between Lake Champlain and U.S. Interstate 81 south of Watertown) is a once prosperous region striving to regain its footing. Make no mistake – there is much the region can celebrate, from an unparalleled quality of life and small-town charm, to a strong can-do attitude marked by neighbors selflessly stepping in to help when the need arises. There are uneven pockets of success and examples of communities bouncing back from harder times, though symptoms of tougher times are still a fact of life in our region. Good jobs can be scarce, salaries are lower than many other places in the state and real estate is often out of reach for many. Affordable housing is a big concern for those living in the region.

When Citizen Advocates announced plans to construct a mixed-use apartment building offering 40 safe, stable and affordable housing units above five commercial spaces in the heart of Malone, New York, the news was greeted with kudos all around.

About Citizen Advocates

Citizen Advocates is a health and human services organization serving a vast expanse of Northern New York, from Lake Champlain in the east, to Lake Ontario in the west. The seven county consortium employs roughly 750 health professionals delivering a complete range of services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as mental health, addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services. In addition to quality clinical services, Citizen Advocates offers supports that promote individual health through job training, transportation, skill building, and, perhaps the most important, housing.

Citizen Advocates has operated state-certified residential facilities since its founding in 1975. With the Harison Place project, the organization embarked on a new direction to provide supportive housing on a grander scale, at the same time injecting a major economic jolt to the heart of downtown Malone.

Emerging from the Ashes

Harison Place on Main Street, built on the site of seven dilapidated and blighted properties is now in its final stage of construction. The project fulfills a vital need for affordable housing and preserves local history while creating new spaces that offer residents an affordable vision for the future. Twenty of the apartments are designed for people in economic need. In order to qualify, a household must earn no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income. Another 20 apartments include individualized services funded through the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative and will be administered by the New York State Office of Mental Health Services. There are 27 one-bedroom apartments, 10 two-bedroom apartments and three, three-bedroom apartments.

According to James Button, President & CEO of Citizen Advocates, the idea for locating Harison Place in the heart of Malone took root in 2017. Prior to that, they considered a more traditional option—locate the project in an open field on the outskirts of town where it would be easy to construct the new housing under a predictable timeline and budget. While that approach would have fulfilled its intended mission, there was a strong desire to do more.

Button suggested, “Blighted and decaying buildings in the heart of a downtown community were a disincentive for new businesses and discouraged the growth of residential development.” He was confident that the Harison Place Project would “encourage investment and inspire people to once again live on Main Street—the once thriving hub of the community.”

Citizen Advocates looked at other communities where there were excellent examples of civic resurgence taking place. Button offered, “We realized we could seize a rare opportunity to replace damaged properties along Main Street with safe, stable and affordable housing. It was then that our vision became clear, and from that point forward we did not stray from what would become an uncompromising goal.”

Groundbreaking for the $22 million, four-story apartment project took place on July 19, 2022. The fire that ravaged two of the buildings in 2017 devastated the block where they stood. The Gorman building was an apartment complex and its residents were displaced. It took a year for the block of seven buildings to be demolished and prepped for construction—the largest of its kind ever in Franklin County.

From the start, Citizen Advocates committed $6.7 million dollars for the demolition phase of the project which began in the summer of 2021. Plans called for five street level commercial spaces intended for community-service organizations and other enterprises that complement existing businesses in the area and community needs. Equally important, the design also called for 40 state-of-the art, climate-friendly, smoke and pet free apartments. For the 20 apartments designed for individuals seeking supportive services, resources include mental health care, career and training support, financial planning, life skills, and healthcare coordination.

Initial applications for an apartment were due September 15, 2023, however applications are accepted on a rolling basis with qualifying applicants placed on a waiting list. Five of the apartments were geared for persons with mobility issues and those who are vision or hearing impaired. The rental price includes enhanced broadband internet, heat and hot water. Each unit includes all-electric Energy Star appliances. Enhancing the project is an onsite laundry, playground and community rooms. Within walking distance are churches, banks, pharmacies, and restaurants. For those without a vehicle, Franklin County is fortunate to have a public transportation system.

The architectural firm of Zausmer-Frisch Scruton & Aggarwal of Syracuse carefully designed Harison Place to complement the surrounding historic architecture. Celia Construction of Whitesboro brought the project to life as lead contractor. Together, their ability to reimagine this stretch of once blighted buildings allowed them to create something new from something old. Its 19th century-style façade includes a flatiron shape made of engineered stone and brick with embellishments. The building’s exterior incorporates sandstone blocks salvaged from the Gorman Building, previously referred to as the Paddock Building in Malone’s earlier days.

Funding for the project came from a range of multiple state, federal and private sources. Those funding sources included Empire State Development, the state Homeless Housing & Assistance Program, the New York State Office of Homes & Community Renewal, Low Income Housing Tax Credit Equity, and the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority. It is noteworthy to mention that the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation donated a half million dollars. The Foundation honors Mother Cabrini who devoted her life to improving the lives of those who faced the greatest struggles.

Button acknowledged there were times during the course of the Harison Place Project when he and his team were confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “From the purchase of the properties to braiding together the necessary funding from multiple agencies and even a global pandemic—we were tested it seemed at every turn,” he said. “But we pressed on because of what the project represents for a community we call home.”

It was a deliberate decision to place the project downtown. “The investment in this vision sends a strong signal to individuals and organizations that our downtown communities can once again be thriving economic drivers,” said Button. “In fact, we believe that Harison Place is a template for all communities. This is about more than housing. From this, a reinvigorated North Country can emerge.”

In February, the first residents moved into their apartments, and commercial tenants are expected to take occupancy by May of this year pending the completion of construction to those spaces. The project represents a win for the entire community—residents and businesses alike—who are working to achieve an economically thriving downtown Malone.

When completed, the Harison Place Project will be part of the movement fueling the Village of Malone’s economic revitalization and by breathing new life into a prominent portion of West Main Street.

Button is encouraged. “This is about a pathway to healthier communities and resilient economies that draw in new investment. From this, a reinvigorated North Country will emerge,” he noted. “This will have a positive impact on the region for years to come.”

The endeavor is proof of what can be accomplished when an entire community rallies behind a shared goal. There is no doubt that projects like Harison Place in Malone and MacKenzie Overlook in Lake Placid (Strictly Business, April 2023) are solid steps in the right direction for addressing the housing crisis in our region and serve as templates for a successful path forward.

Harison Place

5 Harison Place

Malone, NY 12953

518 483-2060

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