The City Council is expected to help provide the Capital Region Land Bank with the financial wherewithal to reimagine a blighted two-family residence that has been vacant for at least four years.
Toward the city’s ongoing effort to eradicate blight in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood, where 25 properties have been demolished, the council will vote on whether to authorize a $100,000 federal Community Development Block Grant loan for the Capital Region Land Bank to rehab 110 Prospect St.
The council’s Finance Committee gave unanimous approval last week.
The work would mimic what’s been done at nearby 760 Eastern Ave., a land bank property whose outdated layout was overcome by volunteers of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County. Work at 760 Eastern Ave. is at its tail end.
The Habitat for Humanity rehab, a pilot project with the land bank, provided a new layout of the two-family flat that’s prevalent in Schenectady.
Both units used to have a sitting room, formal dining room, and a hallway that led to four small bedrooms with small closets, with a kitchen toward the back of the units.
“We just don’t live like that anymore,” said David Hogenkamp, project director of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.
With multi-generational living in mind, the rehab created a main two-story apartment that moved the kitchen and living room to the noisier street level. Three larger bedrooms and an office were set to the back of the property.
Meanwhile, there’s a separate one-bedroom efficiency on the second floor that could be used for an in-law or income-generating unit.
“You’re more in a situation where maybe I have a larger family, and maybe I want a little bit more space, but I still want the rental income,” Hogenkamp said. “Or maybe I’m at the point in life where I need a one bedroom, and I use the rental income to allow somebody else to set up in the larger unit.”
Habitat for Humanity executive director Madelyn Thorne said it’s the first time Schenectady Habitat has worked on a house that has an income apartment.
“That’s genius. It all belongs to him,” Thorne said of Hogenkamp. “And that [the efficiency unit] is going to make this even more affordable. It’s a great idea for a Habitat homeowner to be able to have that additional income.”
The agencies will “layer” a number of different funding sources, making sure that homeowners know of the different mortgage programs that are available for its potential buyer.
“This was a tough project,” Thorne said. “It’s a lot of work. We did it in the middle of COVID, and a minimal number of volunteers that we could engage. So I’m really, really proud that the volunteers stuck with us.”
Without the benefit of the volunteer program, the 110 Prospect St. project will have the land bank work collaboratively with the city and graduates of its Section 3 training program, Hogenkamp said.
The city’s office of Affirmative Action has been providing classroom construction courses to Section 3 residents of Schenectady, which is meant for low-income residents and residents who live in public housing. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
City officials approached the land bank about partnering, Hogenkamp said, crediting Affirmative Action director Ron Gardner for doing “a tremendous job with creating new programs for people from the community to get job opportunities.”
“Whether it’s you, me or anybody else, when you start one of these rehabs, you start out with high goals and objectives and a lot of enthusiasm,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said of the project’s merits. “Get halfway through it, and you’re saying why the hell did I get into this?”
Hogenkamp said he anticipates the land bank would invest another $100,000, including for design costs and asbestos removal. Work is to begin this construction season. It could be done by the end of the year.
The property will likely be offered for sale for $185,000 to $200,000 to a buyer who’s committed to homeownership and meets the guidelines for affordable housing, Hogenkamp said.
“We might sell it for a little bit of a loss,” he said. “But what we’re going to do is, we’re going to make it a good, long-term, homeownership opportunity, using various programs out there” for qualified buyers.
The Land Bank is overseen by the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority. Schenectady’s land bank has been in existence since 2014. The state passed land banks into law in 2012.
The land bank has brought in more than $9 million in grant funding for projects, the majority of which have come from bank settlements after the mortgage foreclosure crisis in late 2008.
“It was a really good way for the state to recognize that the foreclosure crisis is not just because of bad mortgages,” Hogenkamp said. “We had this abundance of vacant and abandoned property that had deteriorated so much that it had no value.”
The Prospect Street project is across the street from a new, LEED-certified home that the land bank built using participants of the YouthBuild Schenectady Social Enterprise and Training Center. Two properties were razed to make way for that project.
More than 25 blighted properties have been demolished in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood.
Hogenkamp said the Prospect Street property adds to “a healthy mix of opportunities for homeowners and renters” in the neighborhood.
“If we can continue to promote homeownership there it’s just going to further stabilize the neighborhood, for sure,” he said.
Hogenkamp said the land bank will continue its work in neighborhoods. Along with other redevelopment partners (Community Builders and the city of Schenectady), the land bank and its partners, such as Community Builders and the City of Schenectady, have invested upward of $100 million in Hamilton Hill, while there were 44 demolitions in Mont Pleasant between the land bank and city.
“People’s home values are significantly impacted if they’re right next to a vacant property, and $7,000, they say at first, is what it could be declining your home value. You remove the worst of the worst,” he said.
In 2019, the Eastern Avenue neighborhood received a major boost when the New York State Homes and Community Renewal approved housing tax credits needed to complete financing for the $19 million Renaissance Square project.