Rebuilding Community
From the Concord Monitor, 2012-07-16

Renovations on two blighted apartment buildings in Franklin could start before the end of the month after the Executive Council unanimously approved a $500,000 federal grant for the project last week.

"I'm very excited," said Kevin Lacasse, owner of New England Family Housing, based in New Hampton.

Lacasse, through his limited liability corporation Franklin River Heights, purchased the brick buildings at 188-198 S. Main St. for $615,000 on Jan. 3.

The Community Development Block Grant will cover $500,000 of the roughly $680,000 in renovations, Lacasse said, including updated security systems. Lacasse said he has raised the rest through private equity.

The buildings were built in the 1970s and have undergone little or no upkeep since, Lacasse wrote in his grant application.

The property needed so much work, he wrote, that the cost to buy and repair it exceeds its value "once complete."

External renovations will include a new parking lot, rubber roofs and shutters. Interior improvements will include new kitchens and bathrooms, and replacing faulty electrical outlets and inadequate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, Lacasse said. Water damage has gutted some of the walls down to the studs.

Lacasse has said he hopes to attract a less-transient population to the area, which city officials feel has an overabundance of low-rent housing.

The Franklin City Council voted late last year to support the plan because it would improve available housing stock and provide professional management to a property that has been hurting local property values, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said. The police have regularly responded to domestic and neighbor disputes in the building, and drug activity in the area has been on the department's radar, officials said.

The renovation and management will "dramatically improve the situation," Dragon said.

"I think it's a wonderful project," Dragon said. "It was much needed, and I'm looking forward to the improvements."

Lacasse said he will keep the rents at fair market values determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and will not seek subsidized housing.

Lacasse said the project still needs final environmental reviews and expects them shortly.

He already selected the contractor for the project, Dan Giroux of Berlin. Lacasse said the bulk of his work is in private development but he has worked on similar federally funded public-private partnerships in Berlin and Claremont.

The buildings in Franklin are home to 30 units, 14 of them presently occupied. Lacasse said no one will be displeased by the renovations, which will last about four months.

"I'm excited for our company," Lacasse said. "I'm excited for the residents in the building."

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