Partial rebuild of Schenectady’s Yates Village wraps up; approvals sought for rest of housing project

Construction continues on Phase I of the new Yates Village in Schenectady on Friday. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

Construction continues on Phase I of the new Yates Village in Schenectady on Friday. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

With one-quarter of Yates Village nearing the end of a complete overhaul, plans are being made for renewal of the rest of the public housing complex off Van Vranken Avenue.

The first residents are expected to move into Yates Phase I starting in December, with successive waves of new arrivals continuing into February as city inspections are completed.

Yates Phase II is essentially the same work as Phase I and has the same goal: Replacing a circa-1948 housing project with townhouses laid out in a way to create a greater sense of community.

Yates is the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority’s largest housing development; it is converting to a public-private hybrid through this project, as Pennrose Development collaborates with SMHA and Duvernay + Brooks on the work.

Yates Phase II entered the city regulatory process on Wednesday, with the Planning Commission performing a preliminary site plan review. The reception was favorable — the board members gave praise for Phase I and noted that Phase II is largely the same, a continuation with the same aesthetic and the same goals.

Pennrose said the experiences of building Phase I and the feedback residents offered during construction factored into planning of Phase II. Pennrose had expected this, and for that reason didn’t seek Phase II approval at the same time it sought and received Phase I approval.

“We’ve been pretty directly influencing the design of Phase II,” Dylan Salmons of Pennrose told The Daily Gazette. “I think we’ve got it pretty well honed in at this point.”

Phase II goes next to the city Zoning Board of Appeals for a parking variance — modern requirements call for Yates to have 476 parking spaces, or 1.5 for each of the 300 apartments plus a handful each for the community center and maintenance building.

Yates now has 300 parking spaces, one for each unit, and Pennrose wants to keep it at 300, so it can increase green space and shrink the boulevard-like expanse that now bisects Yates. Cross streets will be added to reduce the sense of a walled compound and enhance a sense of connectivity to the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’re really breaking the superblock there,” Salmons said of the current design, a series of large U-shaped clusters of connected low-rise apartment buildings.

The Planning Commission recommended the Zoning Board approve the variance, saying 300 spaces appears to be enough for 300 units.

There’s a bigger hurdle for Phase II than obtaining city approvals: securing funding.

State and federal affordable housing credits are needed to make the public-private hybrid economically feasible, paying for new construction of units that will rent to lower-income families for below-market rates.

The state and federal governments of course are dealing with the COVID crisis, and all of the financial constraints and demands that result from it, plus some partisan wrangling over priorities.

So funding is not a foregone conclusion. The Phase II plan won’t be abandoned if funding is denied, but neither will it move forward.

“We do not have a sort of standby pot of money that we would look to,” Salmons said. “We’d hope to see stabilization of resources in 2021. It’s a key to affordability here.”

Phase I will conclude with a final price tag of about $27 million. The cost of Phase II can’t be calculated yet, as there are too many unknowns. The amount of work to be done is about triple that of Phase I but won’t necessarily be three times as expensive.

Construction would take about two years, from mid-2021 to mid-2023, if everything falls into place as quickly as possible.

“We’re hoping to break ground on Yates II in June, provided there’s funding available,” Salmons said.

The residents displaced by the Phase I demolition and construction now wrapping up at Yates were offered help getting temporary residences during the project or went on to permanent replacement homes, he said.

All tenants who were in good standing when displaced have been offered first dibs on the new units in Phase I, Salmons said, and response has been strong.

Additional units have been set aside for disabled people and veterans. For the remaining units, which likely will be a small number, a housing lottery was held and names were drawn Friday, Salmons said.

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