KeyBank awards revitalization agency a $250K grant

Money meant to help agency's efforts in revitalizing the Eastern Ave., Crane Street areas
The rear exterior of dilapidated 858 Eastern Ave. in Schenectady is seen in 2016.
The rear exterior of dilapidated 858 Eastern Ave. in Schenectady is seen in 2016.

SCHENECTADY — Better Neighborhoods Inc. received a $250,000 grant from KeyBank on Wednesday to help in its revitalization efforts in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood and along Crane Street.

The grant, which will be given to the agency over a three-year period, was announced during a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday. It will help with the agency’s administrative costs for its Affordable Housing Development Operations.

“Without the support of KeyBank, we literally could not do our work,” said James Flacke, executive director of Better Neighborhoods Inc.

The goal for the funding is to help provide more access to quality affordable housing in the city, according to Kelli Arnold, director of corporate responsibility and community and engagement for KeyBank.

Arnold cited recent U.S. Census data that showed that approximately 7,800 of the city’s 22,000 dwelling units are classified as substandard. She also said that 60 percent of renters in the city live in unaffordable homes, adding that 40 percent of those people spend 30 percent of their household income on rent.

Those were statistics she said Flacke gave her, which she called “eye opening.”

Flacke said Better Neighborhoods has been working with entities such as Schenectady, the Capital Region Land Bank and the Metroplex Development Authority to tackle the issue.

“They have all taken an active role and targeted effort to improve housing in the city of Schenectady,” Arnold said.

Flacke pointed to several projects in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood which the funding will help them complete.

This includes the rehab of the former St. Mary’s School with a 55-unit apartment complex, providing assistance in building a home a 99 Prospect St., and utilizing $700,000 in grants to help homeowners fix code issues.

David Hogenkamp, executive director of the Land Bank and project director for Metroplex, called the support from KeyBank “tremendous.”

“It allows [Better Neighborhoods] to have the capacity we need to be successful in these neighborhoods,” Hogenkamp said. “We’ve done a lot, but we have a long way to go. And we’re going to keep working towards really improving these corridors.”

Flacke said Better Neighborhoods will also be bringing a focus to Crane Street, where he said they are working on a facade improvement program.

This was welcomed news to Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association President Pat Smith, who called the news “wonderful.”

“It’s going to help put the pleasant back in Mont Pleasant,” Smith said. “I’m hoping people in Mont Pleasant realize how lucky we are to be getting this money.”

City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas called the announcement “awesome,” adding she hopes the improvement projects make their way to the Goose Hill neighborhood.

“KeyBank is very philanthropic, so I expect nothing less,” she said. “I’m very thankful for their partnership on this.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy said communities like Schenectady have seen a decline over several decades, He praised KeyBank, though, for its support in trying to help the city improve its community.

It’s something he said the bank is known to do. McCarthy cited the bank’s “Key to the City” program, which started in 2011, to help home buyers purchase distressed properties. He referred to it as the “cornerstone” to the city’s Homeownership Made Easy in Schenectady program.

Don Graves, head of corporate responsibility and community relations for KeyBank, called the city’s program “one that we can take to other parts of the country.”

Graves noted that helping communities also helps the bank do well, which is why it is making this investment.

“It’s more than just traditional banking and services,” Graves said. “It’s helping our communities and helping the people in those communities thrive.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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