Courtesy Beacon Communities

Richford Arms has been home to hundreds of households in Erie, Pennsylvania, for more than 40 years.

Built in 1928, the original structure operated as the 400-room Ford Hotel and later Richford Hotel. In the 1970s, as downtown Erie’s population declined due to the loss of manufacturing jobs after World War II and suburbanization, the hotel was converted into 100 units of affordable housing. It has been a critical affordable housing resource ever since.

While Richford Arms had been well-maintained, the major systems, including the common spaces, elevators, and mechanical systems, were largely original to the 1970s apartment conversion and had reached or exceeded their useful lives. The development also faced the recent expiration of its Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contract. Given its prominent downtown location, the property was at risk of becoming market-rate apartments or an eyesore—and perhaps someday being demolished.

Courtesy Beacon Communities

Instead, in partnership with the city, Erie Insurance, and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Beacon Communities has ensured that the property will continue to serve residents for decades to come. The development team addressed the building’s needs while also introducing new amenity space and six fully accessible units in an adjacent two-story addition. As a result, there are 106 affordable one-bedroom units for seniors.

The team was able to preserve the long-term affordability of the homes through a new 20-year Mark-up-to-Market HAP contract.

The $27.4 million development exemplifies the importance of public-private partnerships. Richford Arms abuts the campus of Erie Insurance, which invested in the project to ensure it would remain part of the downtown area.

Says Beacon Communities president Josh Cohen, “At Richford Arms, our neighbor is a Fortune 500 company that understands how affordable housing is a critical community resource and an important component of a vibrant, mixed-income, mixed-use downtown. The leadership at Erie Insurance ‘put their money where their mouth is’ by providing subordinate debt financing to our renovation transaction. It was a bold and unprecedented move. That financial commitment helped save this building.”