Schenectady County

Schenectady official: Dozens of city houses near collapse

Dozens of houses in the city are near collapse and must be demolished soon, Director of Operations W

Dozens of houses in the city are near collapse and must be demolished soon, Director of Operations William Winkler said.

He and Building Inspector Eric Shilling told the City Council on Monday that they visited hundreds of houses in the city to evaluate their structural integrity.

Twenty-three houses were in such bad shape that they didn’t dare set foot inside.

“We don’t want anyone to go in. We don’t want our firefighters to go in,” Winkler said. “The house could fall down on someone, or a part of it could fall on someone walking outside.”

They prepared a report on the 45 worst houses — complete with photos — to support the mayor’s proposal for a $3 million demolition loan. The loan would probably pay for the demolition of 112 houses, Winkler said.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but we’ve got a lot of houses in tough shape,” he said.

Many of the houses are not owned by the city, and Corporation Counsel John Polster plans to go after the owners to get them to pay for their demolitions.

Winkler said he expects some owners to pay up. “So we’re not footing the bill. It’s their responsibility,” he said.

The mayor has proposed promising a portion of the federal Community Development Block Grant as a guarantee for the demolition loan. When he first proposed it, council members were hesitant to commit funds from the ever-decreasing annual grant.

CDBG plan

On Monday, they agreed in committee to a plan for this year’s grant, including the demolition loan. But they plan to discuss the complex financing with the mayor before voting on the loan application.

Winkler urged them to approve the full $3 million loan.

“If you take a house down, it helps the street, the neighborhood, the city, immensely,” he said.

Shilling added that they had to take action before the houses get worse.

“There will be no improvement of these houses over time,” he said, showing pictures of buildings with no roofs, collapsing porches and huge holes in the walls instead of windows.

“If they’re on this list, they’ll do nothing but deteriorate,” he said.

Council members focused on the rest of the Community Development Block Grant budget, cutting from City Hall to provide more funding for a few non-profits.

They cut $42,000 from the Department of Development, where staffers track implementation of the CDBG projects. That means someone may be laid off, Director Richard Purga said.

They also cut $22,000 from the Police Department, which relies on CDBG to pay for seven police officers.

With those cuts, they vastly expanded the summer lunch for children program by more than doubling Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s grant, from $2,000 to $5,000.

They also expanded the summer program at Steinmetz and Hillhurst parks, adding $19,000 to the $24,000 budget for children’s activities.

Homelessness prevention also got a boost. They added $15,400 to Bethesda House’s eviction prevention program, $5,300 to Bethesda House’s security deposit program to help renters avoid homelessness, $1,250 to Bethesda House’s drop-in center for the homeless and indigent, and $1,250 to Schenectady Community Action Program’s homeless prevention program.

For street paving, they added $4,800.

Council President Margaret King said the council members had discussed the figures through a series of emails prior to the meeting. The final figures were briefly presented, without discussion, and unanimously approved in committee.

The council will take a final vote next Monday at 7 p.m.

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