With the city’s median sales price for residential property hovering around $355,000 — nearly twice as much as in the rest of the greater Capital Region — owning a place to live in downtown Saratoga Springs is a goal very few low-income families can hope to attain.
Even finding affordable rental housing within the city is becoming increasingly difficult. That was made worse when the 45 units in the Algonquin building on Broadway were emptied for conversion into luxury apartments and a fire gutted the Woodlawn Avenue row houses a block away from the main drag.
City officials have grappled with ways to bring affordable housing to the city for years, with limited success. Now, a new partnership between the private sector, the city and a non-profit organization is trying a model that could bring some affordable housing back to the heart of Saratoga Springs.
The city is working on a new venture with Habitat for Humanity of Northern Saratoga, Warren & Washington Counties, Rebuilding Together Saratoga County and the Saratoga Builders Association to build two homes to house three working-class families only a few blocks away from downtown. The homes — a duplex and single-family residence — will be constructed on foreclosed property the city took on Division Street and Cherry Street on the west side in 2011.
This summer, the foreclosed properties were deeded over to Habitat, which is now working with the builders association to secure volunteer labor to build the new homes starting next spring. Meanwhile, Habitat is screening families earning between $30,000 and $46,000 a year to find three that will both help build the homes and then occupy them on a lease-to-own basis.
“We’re hoping that this is a successful venture,” said Tammy DiCara, president of Habitat’s board of directors. “To take someone from the city and guide them into home ownership — that’s our goal.”
Prospective resident families are required to contribute 500 hours of volunteer labor for the building project. Once the home is completed, the family will pay between $600 and $700 per month to Habitat, which will serve as a mortgage holder for the property.
The payments will be based on a 20-year mortgage. And because of the volunteer labor from members of the Builders Association, the money will essentially go to pay for the materials used to construct the home.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity and they are paying for a fraction of the value [of the home],” DiCara said. “And if it works here, we could do it elsewhere.”
The land on Division Street totals about 0.14 acres and is vacant. Full market value is listed at $75,000 in county records.
The 0.17-acre Cherry Street property is now occupied by a dilapidated house that eventually will be demolished. The land is valued at $55,800.
In 2012, the City Council started an initiative to explore ways to transform the two properties into affordable housing. Of the options considered, they decided the best was to deed the land to an organization like Habitat so it could work on ways to redevelop the sites for working-class families.
“This concept provided a unique and uncommon opportunity to contribute the housing and land itself to the affordable housing effort,” said Michele Madigan, the city’s finance commissioner, who helped develop the partnership.
The project will bolster residential in-fill within the heart of the city and also help put two parcels back on the tax rolls. Above all, it will bring three families within close proximity of everything the city has to offer.
“This has many positives,” Madigan said.