Land banks to get state money

A $20 million pool of funding for the state’s eight land banks is seen as a chance to jumpstart the

A $20 million pool of funding for the state’s eight land banks is seen as a chance to jumpstart the efforts of the land bank representing Amsterdam, the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County.

The grant money, which is part of a national mortgage foreclosure settlement, represents the first significant funding for the state’s land banks, which are designed to revitalize vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties in a community. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the funding Wednesday in Syracuse.

“Having the opportunity to apply for grant money is tremendous,” said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane.

The Amsterdam-Schenectady land bank, known as the Land Reutilization Corporation of the Capital Region, was one of the first formed in the state following the state Legislature’s creation of the program in 2011.

Funding will be awarded in two rounds, with the second round not coming until next year.

The competitive application process for the funds will consider how a plan directly addresses the effects of the foreclosure crisis. The Amsterdam-Schenectady land bank is still awaiting details about the application process, although it already sent a broad proposal to the state Attorney General’s Office.

“We are just getting to the point where we can take properties on, rehab them and flip them,” Thane said.

Realizing this process has been basically impossible up to this point because of a lack of funds. She said the hope has been to partner with developers and identify properties that can be revitalized as part of a mutually beneficial relationship.

The approved budget for the Schenectady-Amsterdam land bank projects only $100,000 in revenue. Its director, Steve Strichman, said funding from Schenectady County has gotten the operation on its feet but not to the point where it can even afford a full-time staff. Once the land bank has funding to purchase properties and revitalize them, he said they will be able to get the ball rolling with their efforts.

“It is easy for us to recoup the investment, but you need money up front,” he said.

In addition to grants, Strichman said they could also operate with a revolving loan fund.

Schneiderman said in a news release Wednesday that the available funding should empower communities to rebuild block by block.

“The road to recovery is long, but it will take innovative approaches like this — driven and managed by those who know the community best — to boost local economies and finally put this crisis behind us,” he said.

Amsterdam-Schenectady land bank Chairman Robert Hoffman noted the good relationships among the state’s land banks and hoped that would allow them to collaborate in the future.

The land bank is still in the process of identifying properties that could be ripe for revitalization. Strichman said the land bank is about to take on its first property, which is located in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood of Schenectady and will come from a local lender that foreclosed on it. He felt that was a signal that other entities understood the value of the project. “It is good to get that first one and … to start moving on it,” he said.

In April, Amsterdam officials pushed for consideration of a one-story house at 35 Julia St., abandoned and in the city’s hands since 2005. The project was highlighted in an attempt to prevent the neighborhood from deteriorating.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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