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East Side veterans apartments getting $11M update

A century-old apartment building on West Utica will be getting an $11 million rehabilitation, updating the building's mechanical technology and making more units ready for the changing veteran population.

It was once the Stratford Arms Hotel, built in 1901 for the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo. It was closed and boarded up in the 1980s.

In 1996, the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition bought the shell and turned it into 41 1- and 2-bedroom affordable housing apartments for disadvantaged veterans, part of a series of buildings the agency owns near Utica and Main streets.

Coalition President and COO Celia O'Brien said the structure shows the effects of its years and the rehab will address basic issues like heating and the roof.

"More user friendly based on today's needs, today's technology, compared to what it was 25 years ago," O'Brien said. "The goal is to for us to continue to develop - which we're looking into developing a new project now on the East Side - but taking more property and making more housing and making it more family friendly, rather than single male."

Once the project is complete, O'Brien said the coalition will be able to house a larger variety of veterans.

"We were built on the post-Vietnam single male population," she said. "The VA doesn't refer us single mothers with children. They don't refer us families because we don't have the room for them. That's why our future development is going to include housing for families and children."

Some of the units will remain supportive housing for homeless veterans, while others will be converted to accommodate older disabled veterans. She said these kinds of supportive services are important.

"They have a camaraderie about other people, case managers on staff that can work with them, setting up short and long-term goals, making sure they get referrals to the services they need, whether it's employment or case management or whatever their needs are," O'Brien said. "If they are disabled, they know that they get these services. They get sent to school. But somebody's there to look after them so that they don't become lost in the system."

O'Brien said most of the money for the project will come from the New York State Division of Community Renewal. Construction will start in the first quarter of 2018, taking three to four months to complete.

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