As Better Neighborhoods Inc. approaches its half-century anniversary, the nonprofit has new leadership and new plans for the future.
In existence since 1966, the organization strives to do just what its name says: create better neighborhoods. That aim is accomplished by rehabilitating and building affordable homes for low-income city residents; by educating potential homebuyers about how to budget, save money and repair their credit; and by counseling those at risk for foreclosure.
Longtime executive director Edward August retired May 29 after 29 years leading the organization. A fundraiser and retirement celebration will be held in his honor June 25.
If you go
WHAT: Better Neighborhoods Inc. Spring Fest and retirement celebration for Edward August
WHEN: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25
WHERE: Hibernian Hall, 1746 State St., Schenectady
TICKETS: $25 online or $30 at the door
MORE INFO: www.better-neighborhoods.org or 372-6469
August recalled working seven days a week in his early years with Better Neighborhoods, rehabilitating housing units owned by the organization.
August said he’s proud of the number of houses Better Neighborhoods has built or renovated that are now sustainable. The majority of those homes are in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
“They’ve been redone, and people are living in them, and the houses that we’ve built, some of the ones we’ve done with solar and photovoltaics, that stuff was never done,” he said.
August’s replacement is former assistant director James Flacke. During the 1980s, Flacke worked for the city of Schenectady as a housing planner. He was a member of Better Neighborhood’s board of directors from the late 1980s until the early 2000s, helping with financial planning and at one point serving as chairman. In late 2013, he took the job as Better Neighborhood’s assistant director.
In the past 10 years, more than 200 housing units have been either built or renovated by Better Neighborhoods and more than 1,200 households have received counseling, according to Flacke. Also during that time, state and federal funding the organization relies on has dropped measurably.
“Just this year, HUD’s grant to the city through the [Community Development] Block Grant program was cut 17 percent,” Flacke said. “We need to stand on our own two feet when it comes to revenue and income.”
One way to meet that goal is for the organization to oversee more apartments, he said. At present, Better Neighborhoods owns and oversees 13 of them for low-income renters, according to construction manager Dave Schultz.
Flacke said Better Neighborhoods is uniquely positioned to be a great landlord in the city.
“There’s a win-win proposition here. In fact, it’s actually a three-way, because we work well and often with the city government, and also, the city itself is looking for responsible, attentive landlords, so it’s a win for the agency, a win for tenants themselves and a win for the city, because we can be an accountable and professional and responsible landlord,” he said.
Better Neighborhoods is working to get funding for a new Stepping Stones project designed to help people move from homelessness into more permanent housing. The program will provide safe, quality, affordable rental units, along with budget counseling and other support.
Flacke said the organization is also in discussion with the Capital Region Land Bank and hopes to collaborate with that organization in the future.
“We’re talking about some buildings right now on Eastern Avenue to help rehabilitate,” he said.
Better Neighborhoods recently sold a renovated house on Strong Street and has newly constructed ones on the market on Chestnut Street and Grant Avenue. The ENERGY STAR-rated homes have three bedrooms, two full baths, laundry facilities and off-street parking. They cost approximately $175,000 to build, but state and federal grants have helped to offset the asking price, lowering it for each home to $64,900.
Buyers must meet income-eligibility requirements.
Homeownership is in reach for many who may have never dreamed they could afford it, Flacke said.
“If our clients are diligent, meaning they are consistent in following the recommendations of our housing counselors, virtually everyone of modest means, you can be a homeowner. You just have to follow the program,” he said. “Even if you show up and you have terrible credit, as long as you can get into our program and work with our counselors and follow the steps, you can repair the credit, you can get the savings together and there are grant programs to assist in the actual purchase, which are wonderful.”