Neighbors resist plans for assistive housing in Lowville

Mar. 11—LOWVILLE — Stowe Street residents spoke out during the county board meeting Tuesday evening against Lewis County leadership's plan to create a temporary and assistive housing facility on a county-owned Outer Stowe Street property next to the Human Services Building.

"My husband and I have been residents of Stowe Street for 23 years. I am here to share serious concerns I have with the proposed multi-million dollar building at the top of our street, which will be used to house homeless people," said Laurie A. Rowsam of 5425 Stowe St., with her husband, Gene H. Rowsam, sitting nearby.

The core of her prepared statements centered around safety concerns because, based on the research she had conducted, "this plan includes people with drug addiction" and, she said, there is a "correlation between crime and drug addiction."

Mrs. Rowsam supported her assertions with statistics from 2009 and 2012 found on the Bureau of Justice Statistics and American Judges Association websites, respectively.

Acknowledging the plan for 24-hour-a-day security at the facility, she said that measure will not provide protection for Stowe Street residents at risk because facility residents are likely to walk the mile into the village center for various amenities from groceries to entertainment as well as jobs.

It was that walkability and the land's proximity to the organizations that will provide many of the services the residents will need, like The Work Place for jobs, Social Services and Community Services for mental health and addiction disorder treatment, that caused GYMO Engineering to recommend the new facility option over renovations of the former Glenfield Elementary School. The 100% funding of a new building through a state grant was also a factor.

The potential for crime by facility residents against Stowe Street residents was not specifically discussed in committee meetings or broached in presentations beyond the fact that the county Sheriff's Office is on the other side of the human services building and easily accessible in case of trouble.

Other speakers from the street including Michael H. Comet of 5379 Stowe St., echoed Mrs. Rowsam's safety concerns. Mr. Comet noted that "as everybody knows" there are usually only two Sheriff's office and two State Police patrols on duty at one time in the county, which would make response times slow by law enforcement.

"Proximity doesn't ensure protection," he said of the nearby Sheriff's Office.

Other concerns raised by the speakers included speculation that the facility would cause property values to decrease, frustration that taxpayer money would be used — whether it be local or state tax money — and belief that the renovation of the Glenfield School would be "cheaper."

Laura S. Widrick, who lives directly across from the currently empty grass lot intended for the facility and is known for her extensive flower garden in the front of her property, said she is additionally concerned that the facility will cause the wildlife in the green area and her garden to disappear.

In anticipation of the public pushback, the county provided a fact sheet that reiterated what had been discussed in all previous meetings on the topic.

After the board meeting, Mrs. Rowsam said it "would have been great to have that information before this" and that she is not against creating housing opportunities for homeless people and others who are impacted by poverty especially because as a school counselor, she understands generational poverty.

She questions how quickly the board is moving on the topic and the fact that the people living on the street were not informed about the potential facility.

Before and after a lengthy presentation of the project during the county's Health and Human Services Committee meeting last month, Legislator Jessica L. Moser said the housing project would be discussed and decisions would be made during the general board meeting because of a number of missing committee members, however, the topic was not discussed by legislators.

County Manager Ryan M. Piche said on Wednesday that was a mistaken statement because although the county paid for the feasibility study, Snow Belt Housing is in charge going forward and will own and operate the facility if it comes to fruition.

"Snowbelt will send in the (state) HHAP (Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention Grant) application. There's nothing at this point the county needs to decide other than, when it comes down to it, are we going to give that lot up or not," he said.

The Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative state grant which will supply $25,000 per unit per year to help run the facility is automatically activated with the HHAP approval.

Snow Belt Executive Director Jaylyn Heames told the Stowe Street residents at the meeting that she appreciated the comments. "I really honestly want to know what your feedback is," she said. inviting them to share more about their concerns at meetings she hopes to set up with town and village leaders, "It is still very early... but the more feedback that we can get at this time, the better the program will represent what the town, village and county really want."

Mrs. Rowsam plans to take her up on the offer.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness states on its website that "Study after study has shown that supportive housing not only resolves homelessness and increases housing stability, but also improves health and lowers public costs by reducing the use of publicly-funded crisis services, including shelters, hospitals, psychiatric centers, jails, and prisons."

The county has estimated that the Department of Social Services spends an average of $100,000 per year on housing homeless individuals and families in motels in neighboring counties, as is currently the practice and on future state mandated warming centers which cost taxpayers $250,000.