A pair of Schenectady-based housing nonprofits have merged into a new organization that should be better positioned to help shepherd affordable housing projects and offer residents financial counseling and support, officials said.
The new Better Community Neighborhoods, Inc., is the product of the joining together of the Community Land Trust of Schenectady and Better Neighborhoods Inc., which scored state approval for the merger about a year ago.
By merging the two nonprofits, the new organization’s leaders said Better Community Neighborhoods will be more effective in coordinating affordable housing projects in Schenectady. The new organization can bring local expertise and knowledge to the table as they work with outside developers and look to connect different projects through a coordinated approach.
“The idea is to coordinate the state investment, coordinate the federal investment and coordinate the local investment to effectuate comprehensive, neighborhood revitalization,” said Jennica Huff, who took over as CEO of the new nonprofit in March after working on affordable housing projects in Schenectady as a project manager at nonprofit development company Community Builders.
Huff said the nonprofit planned to publish a new website this week and is looking to establish a new office location. (Staff have been working from the Community Land Trust’s old Van Vranken office and remotely since the merger was finalized.)
The organization offers housing and financial counseling to renters and homeowners in the city, working with individuals interested in learning about different city, state and federal programs that provide assistance and grants to make home improvements or purchase a new house.
The nonprofit will also work through different affordable housing programs to establish large developments in the city. As those types of affordable housing projects move forward, Better Community Neighborhoods will look for ways to expand improvement efforts to nearby houses and neighborhoods.
Huff and Charles Kilbourne, president of the new organization’s board of directors, highlighted the city’s reliance on single and double-family properties and the repair and renovation needs of many of those properties. The housing nonprofit will focus on programs and grants that offer funding for critical renovations, looking to ramp up the number of properties in the city that are improved each year.
Kilbourne said the two earlier housing nonprofits struggled to garner funding for major projects and sometimes competed for resources.
“When you have two small groups in a city like Schenectady, and they barely have enough resources to survive, they end up competing with each other for everything,” he said. “What they don’t do is come up with a comprehensive approach.”
He said the merger has been in the works for a couple of years and aimed to create a single community-based housing organization with the scale and reach to serve a similar role for neighborhood revitalization that Schenectady Metroplex plays in downtown economic development.
“It has the potential to do for the neighborhoods what Metroplex does for downtown,” he said. “We want to be big enough and strong enough to do large-scale projects.”
The Wright Family Foundation and the Little Family Foundation played key roles in making the merger and reality and both have committed $100,000 per year for at least three years as the new nonprofit continues to expand its reach, Kilbourne said.