Schenectady County

Low-income homes green — and affordable

It’s meant for a low-income family, but the newly built 1005 Glendale Place looks nothing like the t
Architect Dave Sadowsky, right, explains features of the new "Universal Design/Green/Affordable Housing Prototype Project" at 1005 Glendale Place in Schenectady on Monday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Architect Dave Sadowsky, right, explains features of the new "Universal Design/Green/Affordable Housing Prototype Project" at 1005 Glendale Place in Schenectady on Monday.

It’s meant for a low-income family, but the newly built 1005 Glendale Place looks nothing like the typical, stripped-down models that are designed to be affordable.

Instead, the just-finished house has all the trappings of prosperity, from solar panels on the roof to bamboo flooring in the living room.

City officials flung open the doors Monday and invited neighbors to tour what the mayor said has never been done in the state before.

“This is the first totally green LEED-certified — we think it’s going to be platinum certified — home in New York state,” said Mayor Brian U. Stratton. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

Photo and video

To view portions of Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton’s remarks at a ceremony celebrating completion of the new home, click here.

To view a slideshow tour of the house, click here.

To view a demonstration of the dual-flushing toilet that is one of the energy-saving features of the new home, click here

Buildings earn LEED certification by meeting federal benchmarks for environmentalism. Platinum is the highest level of certification.

Residents in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood said they were amazed by the beauty of the house. Many added that they wished they could move in. Their highest compliment: “It doesn’t look like a low-income house.”

That’s what the city wanted to hear. Unlike many houses built for low-income residents, no expense was spared at 1005 Glendale Place. An $800 low-water toilet was installed instead of the typical $100, water-wasting toilet. The carpets were made from recycled plastic. Builders even found environmentally friendly paint, which doesn’t give off toxic fumes.

The biggest expense is on the roof, where $18,000 in solar panels will provide more than half of the house’s electricity and hot water.

For another $8,000, the city could’ve installed enough panels to provide all of the house’s utilities, but city officials backed off in hopes of staying within budget.

And despite all the amenities, architect David Sadowsky said the house came in well below the typical budget for a four-bedroom, 1,650-square-foot house. The city spent just under $110 per square foot; Sadowsky said the average cost for a new house is $150 per square foot.

HABITAT DISSENT

The city wound up spending $177,145 for the entire project, more than twice the sale price of $85,000. That expense caused a rift between the city and one of Schenectady’s low-income housing providers. Habitat for Humanity refused to build such an expensive house even though the city offered to pay for half of it.

After some debate, the city and Habitat have gone their separate ways. City Director of Operations Sharon Jordan said the city will still give Habitat three derelict houses to renovate, but will not fund the work.

Habitat will use its volunteer labor to rebuild the houses to its normal standards, which include thick insulation and other inexpensive but energy-saving techniques.

Habitat appears to be the only housing agency with sticker-shock. The Community Land Trust and Better Neighborhoods Inc. are working with the city on the project, and on Monday the state said it was so impressed that it would fund another 10 houses of the same design.

That will bring the city’s total up to 13 — there are two other “green” houses already under construction now, at 845 Grant St. and 301 Victory Ave.

Stratton said he’s building 13 green houses “because we can’t have 1,300.”

He sees it as a triple-win. The city uses some of the funding to demolish abandoned houses, most of them damged by fire, and replaces them with nice-looking houses that are better for the environment and can be sold to low-income residents.

“As energy and fuel costs go up, we must make projects like this a priority,” he said. “They also help to stabilize and beautify our neighborhoods.”

He acknowledged that he could build more low-income housing if he were willing to buy fewer environmentally friendly amenities, but said the money is well spent.

“Any way we can help reduce our carbon footprint is certainly valuable,” he said. “Just like buying a hybrid car — it costs maybe $5,000 more, but it’s an investment.”

FACING THE FUTURE

The house design also takes into consideration the future of the homeowner. Counters, light switches and shelves have been lowered so they can be easily used by a resident in a wheelchair. Among the more unusual changes, the oven door opens from the side, rather than the top.

“If you’re in a wheelchair, imagine how hard it is to open from the top,” Sadowsky said.

The design also makes it easier for the elderly to remain in their home, he said. A laundry chute lets them send clothes from the upstairs bathroom to the first-floor laundry room so they don’t have to carry a heavy bag.

The risers on the stairs alternate in color so they can be seen even with fading vision. Outlets are placed higher on the wall so residents don’t have to bend as far to reach them.

“The whole idea is they can age in place,” said city Homeownership Coordinator Ann Petersen. “One month in a nursing home is more than it costs to put in these features.”

But what impressed visitors the most was that the house looked like it belonged in the neighborhood. It’s a far cry from the burnt-out wreck that sat vacant for more than eight years, said neighbor Janet Macejka.

“It was an eyesore. The horrible smell, and someone stole the siding off the house, and therefore the insulation blew into our yard,” she said. “Now, the view alone … it’s nice to see a new house there. We’re very happy.”

Residents who want to buy the house should apply at the Community Land Trust on Van Vranken Avenue. They must earn no more than 80 percent of the area’s median income — $50,850 for a family of three — and must be a first-time homebuyer.

They also can’t be planning to sell the house later for its full market value. Under Community Land Trust rules, owners must agree to sell the house back to CLT for only a slight profit based on work done on the house. CLT will then sell the house to a new applicant.

The idea, CLT Executive Director Beverly Burnett said, is to forever preserve the value of the state and federal grants that were poured into the house.

“It does preserve the affordability of the house on a permanent basis,” she said. “Once the house is sold, it goes off the open market forever.”

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