Niagara Falls is kicking-off a program to lure young professionals into the city by helping them pay their student loans. The $200,000 program would guarantee $7,000 over two years to 20 college graduates on the condition they buy a home or rent an apartment in downtown Niagara Falls. City officials see "knowledge professionals," and their discretionary income, as the difference between any city's success and failure as a living destination.
The program aims to not only bring young people into the city, but to revitalize a struggling neighborhood north of the downtown tourist district (see map below). Clustering a dense group of talent helps foster entrepreneurial and economic opportunities and growth.
Graduates who have received degrees within the past two years and graduate school students are eligible.
The City of Niagara Falls will annually reimburse the graduate for his/her monthly student loan payment amount, up to but not exceeding $291 per month, for two years. This amount would not exceed $3,492 a year and $6,984 during the full term of the agreement. This payment would be made directly to the applicant during his annual certification with the Community Development Department. The applicant would be required to show proof of good standing with the loaning agency, and proof of good standing with either his landlord or mortgage agency. In turn, the applicant is required to maintain residency, in compliance with program standards, in the target area for the two year term of the agreement.
"We are trying to build a creative atmosphere in a city that needs it," says Seth Piccirillo, Niagara Falls' Director of Community Development. "We want this approach to resonate with people, and thinking about Niagara Falls in a new light."
It is already working. In just a couple of months, the program has gathered national and international press along with hundreds of inquiries from interested graduates.
Next week Tuesday, the City will be hosting a community meeting to discuss the Downtown Housing Incentive Program. The purpose of the meeting is to inform the public of next steps and to receive public input on the strategy. It will be held at 6:30 PM at 640 Park Place in Niagara Falls.
Applications for the program are expected to be released by the end of August.
Says Piccirillo, "Some people have criticized the incentive because it is not enough to 'fix' the area. We agree. In addition to immediately adding new residents, the incentive can leverage other resources, grants, and get investors interested in downtown Niagara Falls. There is no such thing as a silver bullet approach to creating a destination neighborhood. People around the country are hearing about this program and looking into Niagara Falls as a potential living space - there is great value in that alone."
The student loan payment program is part of a multi-pronged effort to improve a key downtown neighborhood.
In July the City of Niagara Falls applied for $700,000 in competitive grant funds through the New York State Consolidated Funding Application Process. The applications are currently being reviewed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. The funding requests are part of a strategic revitalization of downtown Niagara Falls.
The funding would be used to demolish blighted homes, acquire commercial properties, assist with commercial façade rehabs, streetscape improvements, and provide matching grants for mixed-use building owners to improve commercial storefronts and rehab residential units.
"Ultimately, we are creating an environment that people want to live in, and businesses want to invest in," says says Piccirillo. "Without a strategy we will not survive. We just need to work together, and get over a time-tested inferiority complex that makes us attack new ideas. There is nothing wrong with believing that Niagara Falls can become an innovative leader in neighborhood revitalization. Now we need to execute a plan and prove it can be done."
Get Connected: Niagara Falls Community Development Department, 716.286.8800
Entry Image Courtesy of NiagaraUSA