SCHENECTADY Not too many decades ago, Bellevue was a neighborhood of families, where the younger generation often lived upstairs from their elderly parents.
Now, those two-family houses have become the bane of the neighborhood because they bring in strangers — people who may be perfectly nice but moved in as full-fledged adults instead of growing up under the watchful eye of the neighbors.
On streets with many two-family houses, longtime residents say they now know only a handful of their neighbors. It’s not the way it used to be, they say.
“My neighborhood has changed too much in the last few years. There’s only a few neighbors left,” said Bev Mace, who still lives upstairs from her 90-year-old mother.
“It was all family, years ago,” she said. “Now, I actually don’t know who lives up and who lives down anymore.”
But for those who’ve moved in recently, it’s hard to believe it was once a better place than it is now.
View maps and earlier stories in the series
To view a map of Bellevue, click here.
To view a map of the 11 Schenectady neighborhoods, click here.
Introduction: Census data show a city growing, changing in racial makeup. Click here.
Part 1: Woodlawn, a suburb in the city, takes care of itself. Click here.
Part 2: Eastern Avenue, two neighborhoods in one. Click here.
Part 3: Hamilton Hill: Despite new homeowners, crime is up. Click here.
Part 4: The Stockade, defying all expectations. Click here.
“It’s very quiet. Where I used to live, it’s very noisy,” said Anne Goyette, who moved from the Yates Village public housing project with her children this April.
The cleanliness is what first caught her eye when she went looking for an apartment.
Bellevue has many of the city’s classic two-family homes, with shared porches, driveway and backyard. There is a sizeable selection of one-family homes as well, but they are in the minority.
Since Bellevue is a relatively new part of the city, the roads are wide enough for cars and every street has concrete sidewalks. Many neighbors are active volunteers with ReTree Schenectady, and it shows — the streets are lined with trees.
It feels like a suburb; there are few pedestrians and little of the litter that comes with large groups meandering down the sidewalk.
But Goyette fell in love when she noticed what the neighborhood does not have.
“Walking down the street, people say hi to you. You don’t hear the gunshots or the fighting or the cursing,” she said.
Nijae Boyd, 14, who moved from “the ghetto” in downtown Albany a year ago, said Bellevue was better than anywhere he’d ever lived.
He and his friends appreciate the quiet neighborhood because they’ve all moved here from noisier places in the past few years, part of a migration documented in the 2010 Census of younger people of many ethnicities.
They moved to Bellevue expecting a place that was free even of the most minor crimes. So they were disgusted to recently find graffiti — crude penises drawn by younger children — on the Hillhurst Park tennis courts.
Jim Weaver, one of the city’s many active neighborhood watch members, said there are reasons to worry. A stabbing and a recent store robbery are just the tip of the iceberg, he said. He’s seen a few prostitutes openly looking for johns on Broadway and a renter who smoked marijuana on his porch.
“It’s gotten to the point, I bought another house,” he said.
He just moved his family to Rotterdam, although he continues to patrol with Bellevue’s neighborhood watch.
“It’s a shame because it was a good neighborhood,” he said. “Quality of life has gone down, it really has.”
But he and others agreed that the city made a significant improvement this summer by hiring the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady to manage Hillhurst Pool, which had previously been supervised by the city.
“That’s been a big improvement. The Boys and Girls Club has been doing a terrific job,” Weaver said.
Others said that last year, the park was overrun with teenagers who misbehaved, started fights and vandalized property. This year, the problems are gone.
And despite the crime, teenagers said they feel safe and lucky to be in Bellevue.
“It’s better than it would be in regular Schenectady,” said Mileena Winchip, 15. “It’s cleaner than Schenectady. You meet better people here than in other places. At Schenectady High School, people want to fight you. Here, they’re funny and joking around.”
Plenty of vacancies
Despite the predominance of two-family houses, which put residents in close proximity to each other, the neighborhood doesn’t have the same level of quality-of-life problems that face the inner city. While residents in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood said noise and litter were major problems, new renters in Bellevue said they’d managed to escape all that.
“You drive past it and you see it is a better neighborhood. You don’t see people outside their house arguing,” explained Sheryse LaDuke, who moved from Mont Pleasant in search of a better place to raise her son.
Despite the influx, the number of newcomers is not balancing out the number of older residents who are dying or moving away. Nine percent of the housing stock is now empty, according to the Census, twice as high as it has been in the past. And although the neighborhood has maintained its balance of half-renters, half-owners, the renters are now more likely to be strangers rather than adults who grew up in the neighborhood.
Longtime residents said that if the neighborhood is to improve, it must attract more long-term owners who fill the two-family homes, rather than renting to strangers.
“When you have that kind of community, what happens is you know more of the neighbors and you look out for each other,” said John Polimeni, who has lived in Bellevue since 1963.
Julia Lewis, the president-elect of the neighborhood association, wants the city to fund an initiative to encourage more owner-occupied housing.
Owners have bought a stake in the community and are thus motivated to improve the neighborhood, she said. But in the meantime, she wants residents to push renters to maintain their property, just as they would care for a leased car.
“It doesn’t take money to make something look clean and neat,” she said.
Another longtime resident, Toni Pallotolo, said the neighborhood’s vacancy problem could be resolved if banks were pushed to sell their foreclosures more quickly.
Pallotolo, a Realtor, tried repeatedly to buy 2178 Fairview Ave. after it went into foreclosure, but bank officials wouldn’t return her calls. The house sat abandoned for three years before the bank put it on the market.
The owner was among many in Bellevue who lost his house after trying to make a living as a landlord. He cut apart the two-family house to add a third apartment and rented all three, while living in New York City.
Local landlords have warned that rental property rarely pays for itself at first; owners shouldn’t expect to bring in enough money to cover the mortgage, taxes and maintenance. The true profit comes in when the mortgage is paid off.
As happened to many other new landlords, some renters didn’t pay. The owner couldn’t pay his mortgage and eventually turned the house back over to the bank.
Calls for unity
Others want the Broadway business corridor restored. There are many healthy businesses — but also plenty of empty storefronts. The Bellevue Businessman’s Association folded decades ago, and no one now manages corridor-wide festivals or lobbies for assistance at City Hall.
Several residents noted that the Upper Union Business District successfully persuaded the city and the Metroplex Development Authority to pay for a streetscape project, including new sidewalks and aesthetic improvements. The same could be done on Broadway, they said, if the business owners band together.
One business owner said he’d join if someone started a group.
“That would be nice,” said Robert Bond, of Bond Funeral Home. “Bellevue’s always been a tight-knit place. Not so much now.”
“Bellevue has changed a lot,” he said, mourning the days when he knew everyone. “A different group of people have moved in. Unfortunately, a lot of the older people have passed on or moved away — I guess that happens in any city — but the younger people, if they’re financially able, are [moving] to the suburbs.”
Like many long-timers, he wishes Bellevue was what it once was. But he can see why newcomers still say it’s the best neighborhood in the city.
“Bellevue is still a beautiful place — for the most part,” he said.