By Wendy Baker | Photos by Ty Kretser
Northwoods Apartments is an affordable rental housing complex located behind Hannaford Plaza and Valcour Imaging in the Town of Plattsburgh. As a construction project, it brought over $7 million dollars into the North Country’s local economy between May 2021 and October 2022. It continues to bring nearly $1 million into the area annually through continued funding to support local jobs and service contracts.
Construction projects are known to drive local economies, and Northwood’s economic impact numbers are not unusual for construction projects of similar size in the North Country. What makes the Northwoods Apartments project noteworthy is that it was imagined and brought to life through the eyes of a service provider.
“In 2016, New York State released the most significant amount of money dedicated to ending homelessness in its history through the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative (ESSHI), “ explained Elizabeth Carpenter, Director of Housing at Behavioral Health Services North (BHSN). “$25,000 per unit became available for supportive services and operating costs related to reducing our homeless population. We submitted a proposal immediately to bring these funds into our community. We looked at it as an opportunity to design a bold new service model, with input from the community, that was more comprehensive and integrated than anything we’d done before.” Funding to support 20 housing units was conditionally awarded in 2016 and was then increased to support 40 units once the developer, Housing Visions Construction Co., Inc., was onboard and had secured the $24 million necessary in capital funding.
“Typically, in development projects, capital funding is obtained first and funding for support services is obtained afterwards. In this project, the service funding came first,” explained Carpenter. Housing Visions broke ground in 2021 on the apartment complex that resulted in 80 apartment units, with 40 apartments dedicated to households recovering from mental illness, substance use disorders, are between the ages of 18-25, or are chronically homeless. “Our first lease up was in October 2022, and the development was fully leased by January 2023,” noted Carpenter.
BHSN supports several housing programs that offer different levels of care and support. What is different about the Northwoods complex is its scope, and those it serves. In order to qualify for the 40 supported apartments, people need to be homeless or at risk of homelessness in addition to meeting one of four subpopulation criteria.
“We reviewed our local data and what we found was that the majority of the homeless population in Clinton County were experiencing at least one of four things — serious mental illness, a substance use disorder, were 18-25 years old, had had at least four episodes of homelessness over three years, or had been homeless for one year or longer,” said Carpenter.
We felt good that we could make an impact with this project because it was related to the needs in the community we were seeing on a daily basis. With the help of community organizations, we were prepared to support each of these subpopulations.“
Comprehensive Model of Service
For Northwoods Apartments, BHSN created a different type of independent, non-licensed, supportive housing. Its design enables community members to voluntarily begin to care for themselves differently by having 24/7 access to a variety of providers, transportation and support to follow up with appointments, and new approaches to taking care of all aspects of their health.
BHSN support staff are available to create individual support plans for program participants that address specific skills, strengths, and levels of support needed to promote health/well-being, housing stability and economic self-sufficiency. Assistance and advocacy are also provided as needed to enable participants to access a wide range of support services such as:
- Medical care
- Mental health and/or alcohol/
substance addiction counseling
- Peer support (including AA/NA meetings)
- Care management
- Eviction prevention
- Parenting skills development
- Employment skills development
- Education services
- Crisis services
- Domestic violence services
- Legal services
Financial services such as rent subsidies, assistance in furnishing an apartment and security deposits may also be available depending on need. The goal is to assist recipients to maintain affordable, safe, quality, permanent housing and to increase their level of health and well-being.
“I was not surprised that this building was leased up so quickly. Creating more high-quality affordable housing in our community was an important goal of this project and remains a present need. Over the last few years, rents have skyrocketed as has the cost of living, but the salaries and income have not necessarily risen to meet that demand.” explained Carpenter. “We understand that we are actually about 1000 units shy of what is needed in our area for safe and affordable housing. We’re already in the process of looking toward the future with Housing Visions to develop another property with 100-120 units based on the most successful aspects of Northwoods Apartments and the data we are seeing about the needs of our most vulnerable homeless population, including the elderly, within our community.”
Integrated Community Concept
For the 40 apartments that are not supported through the ESSHI grant, minimum and maximum income requirements are in place, however limits cover a broad range. “Generally speaking, the income ranges are approximately $24,000 – $50,000 depending on family and unit size,” explained Housing Visions CEO Ben Lockwood. “Broadly speaking, the ESSHI units also have an upper limit income cap of approximately $37,000.”
“BHSN is here to help connect any of the 80 households living at Northwoods to community resources to meet their needs,” clarified Carpenter. “BHSN is intent on transforming care and enriching lives. We look at the whole person and not just one aspect of their health and wellbeing. We understand that stable housing is the first thing everyone needs in order to focus on their physical and mental health. That’s really only one part of who we are and what we do. We really are a comprehensive agency that can support an individual 24/7 with all aspects of what might be needed in order to live a quality life.”
Northwoods Apartments is a place where safe stable housing is just the beginning. Self-sufficiency and increased health and wellness becomes more likely for residents through assisted connections to educational opportunities, financial counseling and an increased sense of safety and stability. BHSN’s transformational approach to healthcare can be accessed by any resident of Northwoods, regardless of the type of apartment they occupy.
Initial participation data collected in December 2022 is encouraging. BHSN has completed voluntary support plans with 100% of supported housing participants, connecting them to services in the community. Survey participants report the services are focused on the needs/concerns the participant wants to address and 95% believe their support is assisting them to be healthier.
“This project would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of Housing Visions and the overwhelming support from our community, region and state,” explained Carpenter. For many residents it may be the first time they have had the opportunity to live within a culture of self-care. “This place is AMAZING,” one resident shared. “I’m so grateful to be here.”
159 Plaza Blvd.
Plattsburgh, NY 12901