SCHENECTADY – Two representatives of the development team that wants to turn the vacant Elmer Avenue Elementary School into 51 affordable apartments for senior citizens asked the City Council on Monday to reallocate $236,000 from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnership Program.
The city funding hasn’t been used because of a merger that resulted in Better Community Neighborhoods, Inc., the non-profit organization developing the project.
The two previous non-profit organizations that formed BCNI were Better Neighborhoods Inc. and Community Land Trust of Schenectady.
Monday’s public hearing concerned amending the city’s 2020-2021 annual action plan that prioritized housing needs and the creation of affordable apartments, with priority given to a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area designation that allows greater flexibility in the use of community development block grant money. According to a legislative request by city Director of Development Kristin Diotte, the city in its 2018-19 yearly action plan allocated $100,000 to the former BNI to convert the vacant city-owned property into rental units.
The city added $136,000 in the following year’s action plan for the same purpose.
But because of transitions within the organizations, and the merger, those activities never took place.
BCNI intends to partner with Rochester-based Home Leasing, an affordable housing development management company, to convert the school into affordable apartments for seniors.
The estimated $20 million project will seek grants from the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal and the state Historic Preservation Office.
The proposed apartment building, named Elmer Gardens, was granted a use variance by the city Zoning Board of Approvals in October.
BCNI CEO Jennica Huff and Adam Driscoll, development manager for Home Leasing, requested the reallocation.
Huff touted their work elsewhere in the city, noting that BCNI and Home Leasing completed 55 rental apartments for families in the Renaissance Square development along Eastern Avenue during the spring, and another 85 rental apartments were placed in service through Hillside Crossing.
Huff said BCNI is working with the state and municipal stakeholders to create homeownership opportunities in the Hamilton Hill and Eastern Avenue neighborhoods, with BCNI assembling financing for 20 first-time homebuyers in those neighborhoods.
Driscoll said the money was important for applying to New York state in a competitive process that uses a point-scoring system. For that reason, the preliminary plan is for photovoltaic solar arrays to sit atop the building, benefiting seniors by reducing their energy bills.
Huff added that the reallocation would help leverage additional state and private dollars into Schenectady for development, and prevents a vacant school building from becoming a blighted property in the neighborhood.
David Hogenkamp, project director for the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, which oversees the Capital Region Land Bank, said the land bank is pleased Home Leasing took an active interest in wanting to redevelop the vacant school. The Land Bank has done a great deal of work to restore the Eastern Avenue neighborhood.
Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, also supported project and request for the transfer of funds.
“It preserves a really important historic resource,” Carey said.
The Elmer Avenue building has been empty since the Schenectady City School District adjusted its school boundaries in 2017.
Deborah Rembert, president of the Schenectady Tenants Association, was the lone detractor of the plan during the public hearing.
Rembert said the money would be put to better use if it were given to struggling city homeowners who need to rehab their properties.
But Huff said the developer is also securing grants for owners who occupy their homes to conduct rehabs.
The HOMES program is a partnership between the city, area banks, real estate firms, and other housing-related entities to promote and facilitate homeownership in Schenectady.