Northside used to be connected by the bonds of family and nationality, an enclave of Italian immigrants who looked after each other.
Now many of the buildings are rented to newcomers, and that sense of camaraderie is not as strong as it was when whole families filled a block of houses.
But that might change July 20.
Habitat for Humanity is organizing the neighborhood to finally paint over long-standing graffiti, brighten up houses with a fresh coat of paint and cut back the vegetation that seems to be taking over vacant buildings.
Habitat will provide the materials, lunch, beverages and team leaders.
Volunteers must sign up in advance through the Habitat website. The direct link is Schenectadyhabitat.org/building/current-projects/nri. No experience is necessary.
Volunteers will meet at 8:30 a.m. at a city-provided tent (the location has not yet been determined) and fan out to work on houses on Foster Avenue and Carrie Street. Work will end at 3 p.m., but Habitat will also take volunteers who can only work for half a day.
The idea is to make a better neighborhood, one paintbrush at a time.
To kick off the event, Habitat volunteers have done two weeklong projects on Foster Avenue, fixing problems that can’t be solved by amateurs.
They replaced a wobbly railing at the home of a woman in her 90s and shored up a basement wall that had been damaged by water.
Now they’re working on a porch that pulled away from another elderly woman’s house. The foundation had not been laid deeply enough to hold it up.
“A lot of old porches do settle because they didn’t go deep enough,” said Habitat volunteer Richard Baertsch, who was overseeing the work.
Three volunteers intended to put about 100 hours into fixing the porch.
“We thought we’d start something. Once people see progress, they’ll get enthusiastic,” Baertsch said.
Owner Marylyn Lane, 77, said some neighbors still look out for each other — but many of the newcomers are not in the loop.
When she cut her hand, she called her neighbor, who leaped out of her pool and ran to her assistance. When she tried to change a fluorescent light bulb and it shattered on her head, other neighbors from across the street saved the day. In each case, it was not that her newer neighbors were unwilling to help, it was that she called the people she had known for decades.
She said there are many good newcomers in the neighborhood. She noted that she has new neighbors — who bought their house several years ago — who shovel their sidewalk when “the first flake hits the ground.”
She hopes the community day will make new connections, bringing those people into the fold.
“Bring people together,” she said. “It’s a wonderful neighborhood.”
The event will also deal with the many vacant houses in the neighborhood. One house, across from Lane’s, was taken over by squatters two winters ago. The bushes near the front door have grown so high that they hide the first floor. The next-door neighbor had to take a chain saw to the bushes when they threatened to block her driveway.
Lane’s sister-in-law’s aunt used to own the house.
“She must be rolling in her grave to think her shrubs are unruly,” Lane said. “She was always meticulous. What happens is, the owners pass on, the children don’t want it and the landlords don’t care.”