Nonprofit upgrades Helen Hill Apartments

SARANAC LAKE – Under new management, the Helen Hill Apartments have been getting a facelift.

The Adirondack Housing Development Corporation took over operation of the two, six-unit apartment buildings, located at 47 Front St. and 25 Helen St., in October. The buildings had been owned jointly by Massachusetts-based Michel Associates LTD and ComLinks until ComLinks, a Malone-based charity organization, shut down last year and Michel Associates took over sole ownership of the properties.

Both properties were in rough shape when AHDC stepped in, said CEO Sarah Clarkin.

“Both the interior and the exterior needed a lot of work,” Clarkin said during a tour of the apartment houses Tuesday with members of AHDC’s board of directors. “The property had deteriorated in a number of ways, and we’ve been spending the past few months bringing it back up to speed. It’s still a work in progress.”

Among some of the upgrades and renovations: Most of the carpeting has been replaced, new appliances have been installed, the buildings’ security systems have been upgraded, doors have been replaced, and the boilers were repaired.

“Some of the apartments needed to be completely redone,” Clarkin said. “They really had been neglected.”

“ComLinks had not collected rent for the majority of them from March to October,” said AHDC board member Debbie Zerrhan. “There was no supervision, no one overseeing things.”

AHDC was approached by Michel Associates in summer 2012 to discuss the possibility of taking over management of the properties. AHDC is responsible for overseeing and enforcing leases with tenants, collecting rent and maintenance.

The apartments are intended for low-income families and individuals who must be at or below 60 percent of the median income. Although these amounts could vary based on the person’s income, a two-bedroom apartment would rent for $635 a month, which includes a utility allowance. A three-bedroom unit would rent for $778 with the utility allowance. The buildings’ owner pays for heat; tenants pay for their electricity.

“I think there’s a very large need for this type of housing, not so much low-income but good-quality housing,” Zerrhan said. “There’s a lot of quality housing out there, but it’s hard to find.”

“We’d like to have long-term good tenants living here; folks that work locally,” Clarkin said. “AHDC is here to provide local working people with good, affordable housing. This is a first project for the organization, and we’re looking at it as a stepping stone to doing more.”

AHDC formed in 2009 as an offshoot of the Harrietstown Housing Authority, which manages the Lake Flower Apartments and the Algonquin Apartments. The nonprofit group attempted to purchase Paul Smith’s College’s Church Street dormitory and turn it into 12 units of workforce housing in 2010, but the project was shelved when the village and AHDC couldn’t come to terms on a payment-in-lieu-of taxes plan and the village redirected a $400,000 grant it received for the project to other housing initiatives.

The Helen and Front Street apartments had been under a PILOT when they were owned by ComLinks until 2006. Since then, the state has passed a law that requires requires entities that provide subsidized housing to be taxed based on the properties’ net operating income instead of a market-based formula, which gives the apartments’ owner a significant tax break.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or