Schenectady County

HUD grant will build 3 houses

Instead of eight houses for low-income residents, the city will use its $1 million home-building gra
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Instead of eight houses for low-income residents, the city will use its $1 million home-building grant from HUD to construct just three homes.

The budget for the grant, which Schenectady received after Troy did not use the money on time, had to be drastically reworked when the city’s ambitious house design turned out to cost much more than expected, city officials said.

Better Neighborhoods Inc. is using the grant to build energy-efficient houses with solar panels to generate the electricity for water heating. The houses will also be built on a “universal design,” which allows handicapped residents to use them without modifications.

“My understanding is they came in substantially more expensive so the budget was only enough for three and a half houses,” said Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden. “Building material costs were going up and the green and universal design was more expensive than they anticipated.”

But, he said, HUD isn’t concerned by the change.

“It’s a laudable reason for them to be more expensive,” he said.

Homeownership coordinator Ann Petersen said each house will cost about $177,000 — far above the $73,000 original estimate. That estimate came before the city decided on the energy-efficiency and universal design, and included the cost to rehab some houses instead of building new, she said.

BNI typically spends $100,000 to $120,000 on a rehab, whereas Habitat for Humanity spends about $70,000 on a new house using volunteer labor. But they have never before tried to add on the technology and design elements included in the city’s design.

BARGAIN PRICE

The city’s new estimate of $177,000 is well above what it will get for each house — low-income residents can typically afford to pay $85,000, Petersen said.

But she doesn’t see the high cost as a problem.

“We are going to lose some money no matter what you do. We all know we’re not in it to make a profit,” she said. “Typically families have two or three kids and a two-person salary of $45,000 to $50,000. On that, it’s really getting hard to afford home ownership.”

She argued that the city could have spent just as much money to build a new house without the features.

“In terms of the cost to construct, it’s not more expensive. I’ve had others that were more expensive than this,” she said, adding that the houses are cheaper than similar green housing that’s being built today.

“Believe it or not, they really aren’t running more expensive than others in the industry — a little less, actually,” she said.

But even so, she’s not concerned about the cost of energy efficiency. The payback will come over the course of a lifetime in energy savings for the low-income resident.

“I may be able to save someone $200 a month on utilities,” she said.

A new house built without energy efficiencies would cost about $2,458 a year in utilities. The city’s green housing will cost $1,962 a year, she said. That’s a savings of about $41 a month, but the savings is much greater in comparison to a typical, old city house. Utilities for one of Schenectady’s older houses cost about $4,320 a year, she said.

She said the resident may also save money with the universal design, which includes wide doorways for wheelchairs, a bedroom on the ground floor, entrances without stairs and light switches that can be reached by people sitting in a wheelchair.

The design may allow residents to stay out of a nursing home, Petersen said.

“Universal design is just a commonsense thing for allowing someone to age in place,” she said.

The $1 million HUD grant was also used to demolish burned-out houses to make way for each of the three homes, at 845 Grant Ave., 301 Victory Ave. and 1005-1007 Glendale Place. Another $100,000 was budgeted for administrative costs, to pay for a full-time person who will oversee new home construction every year, and $290,000 was set aside for future rehab or construction programs.

BNI began work on the three houses on Dec. 13, and walls are being framed at the Glendale Place property. That house should be done by May, BNI Executive Director Edward August said. A foundation has been poured at the Victory Avenue house, which is slated for completion by June. The Grant Avenue house will be done in mid-July, August said.

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