Schenectady County

Grants to Scotia help improve village homes

A total of $25,300 in renovations completed on Sheir Soura’s 1912 home earlier this month was part o
A total of $25,300 in renovations completed on Sheir Soura's 1912 home earlier this month was part of a $275,000 Community Development Block Grant secured by the village of Scotia last year.
A total of $25,300 in renovations completed on Sheir Soura's 1912 home earlier this month was part of a $275,000 Community Development Block Grant secured by the village of Scotia last year.

For years, Sheir Soura’s neighbors would call the village building inspector to report the chipping paint on her Mohawk Avenue home.

Now, the house is attracting the right kind of attention.

During a village-wide garage sale earlier this month, Soura, 57, said strangers complimented her on the house’s freshly painted stucco and cedar façade, a mix of khaki and ruby red trim Soura picked out herself.

“People kept coming up and saying, ‘Oh my god! We love the colors of your house,’ ” she said. “This one woman, she went overboard. She just stood there and kept staring at the house.”

The new paint job was part of $25,300 in renovations completed on Soura’s 1912 home earlier this month, part of a $275,000 Community Development Block Grant secured by the village last year. The house also received new Anderson windows, two new low-flow toilets, a new bathroom fan, electrical work and a combined water and gas heater. Soura’s house is the first to have renovations completed out of 12 projects awarded funding, Scotia Mayor Kris Kastberg said.

The funding typically doesn’t go toward “adornments” like paint, Soura said, but contractors found lead in the house’s old exterior.

The funding was available to low-income village residents who were either seniors or disabled. Soura qualified because her two sons are disabled and her family lives on a combination of Social Security and her husband’s $20,000 annual income from his job as a Metroplex parking attendant.

In 2001, Soura quit her job as a district manager for D&K Stores when her youngest son, Skyler, then 18 months old, was diagnosed as autistic, mildly retarded and bi-polar, among other disabilities. Her older son, Geoffrey, now 18, had been diagnosed as autistic two years earlier, when he was 4.

“I had to quit work or my youngest son would’ve been institutionalized,” she said.

For the past 11 years, since moving into the house on Mohawk Avenue, Soura has worked to improve her home on a tight budget.

“Everything in my house has been bought at Salvation Army and refinished by me,” she said.

Her brother built the deck at the back of the house. Soura planted seven gardens, some edged in bricks she dug out of a woman’s backyard in Burnt Hills after she saw an ad in the newspaper. The Jacobean roses were a gift from one her two grown daughters.

“I have to do everything for free,” she said.

The renovations, especially the new coat of paint, have made the house match the beauty of the gardens, where lilies, zinnias and spiderwort are in bloom.

“It’s perfect now,” she said. “It’s just absolutely perfect.”

The improvements have also made the family’s lives easier. The new toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush, compared to the old ones, which used 9 gallons and “never worked right from the time we moved in,” Soura said.

“I don’t know anything about toilets, but I do know that they ran every time you flushed,” she said. “We used to have to stand by the toilets for minutes to make sure the running would stop.”

Now, she said, “it all takes place within seconds.”

“We all marvel at these toilets,” she said, laughing. “We stand there and stare at them.”

She also won’t miss installing “big, hulking” storm windows every winter or using a ladder to wash them from the outside.

The new windows tilt in for washing, and should lower her heating bill. So should the more energy-efficient heating unit that replaced the 35-year-old gas boiler and 18-year-old hot water tank.

More renovations are coming to village’s housing stock. The village recently received a $325,000 New York State Affordable Housing Corp. grant to renovate 12 houses of middle-income residents.

The level of funding for each program is tied to income level, with lower income residents being eligible for more funding. The village hopes to start accepting applications within two to three months. To receive renovations, the homes must be owner occupied.

“Presently, we are waiting for the contract for the grant from the state,” Mayor Kastberg said. “Once that is in hand, we will do an outreach to identify potential clients.”

The goal of all of the home renovations is to reverse a trend of owner-occupied houses turning into rental properties by making properties more attractive to homebuyers, Kastberg said.

First National Bank of Scotia has also launched a first time homebuyer’s program, which offers 100 percent financing on homes in the $150,000 price range. Village Trustee John Lockwood approached the bank about starting such a program, which is exclusive to the village of Scotia and aims to encourage about 10 mortgages yearly, Kastberg said. The village is also waiving any repair permit fees for buyers in the program for the first two years of ownership.

The village has 78 two-family houses where the owner lives in one unit and the other is rented, and 280 rental properties where the owner does not live on site. Those numbers do not include apartment complexes such as Scotia Manor.

“The goal of getting owners into these houses is because they all have a sense of ownership for not only the property, but for the village, too, and want to maintain the property in a better condition,” Kastberg said. “Nothing against renters, but in a small village like this with neighborhoods like this, you like to see people who are permanent.”

Soura said she’s prouder than ever to call the village her home. She used to be a truck driver and traveled through 38 states and lived in 25 different places before coming to Scotia. Attracted to the village’s “quaintness” — Scotia Cinema, the parks, the restaurants — she moved there from Stephentown with Charles Groves, in 1996.

“I never found any place I really wanted to settle,” she said. “When I saw Scotia, that was it. I fell in love.”

And her house won’t be turning into a rental anytime soon. Their son Geoffrey, who graduated from Scotia-Glenville High School with a Regents diploma Saturday and plans to find a job locally as a security guard, wants to raise a family of his own there.

“This is gonna be a generational house,” she said. “My son Geoff adores this house.”

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