SCHENECTADY — Stockade residents packed a community meeting on Thursday to learn more about a proposed affordable housing project taking shape in their neighborhood.
YWCA Northeastern New York not only aims to construct a new affordable housing complex behind its present location at 44 Washington Ave., but also renovate the existing building, which was originally built in 1930 and is now outdated and inefficient, according to management.
The non-profit is in the preliminary stages of conducting a feasibility study for the capital project, which consultants estimate will cost between $18 million and $24 million.
Residents said while they agree with the YWCA’s mission and have historically supported the non-profit, they fear such a significant expansion effort would add further stress to a densely-packed neighborhood already groaning under the weight of serious traffic and parking issues.
“The congestion in that neighborhood is going to be tremendous,” said Stockade resident George Marshall. “It’s going to have a mass impact on the Stockade.”
Marshall also raised concerns over quality-of-life issues, including public smoking, possible increases in false alarms and if the new units can even be filled in the wake of the series of new affordable projects being constructed around Schenectady.
The project aims to double housing units, offering capacity for a maximum of 64 residents in a new 50,000-square-foot facility.
Any potential new structure would be limited to 45 feet in height.
YWCA NENY’s existing space would be converted to studio, one- and two-bedroom units designed to accommodate an additional 35 to 45 mixed-income residents; existing programming space would be renovated.
Current residents would be shuttled to the new facility at the rear of the property.
The non-profit is working with New York City-based consulting firm Xenolith Partners on the feasibility study. Stracher Roth Gilmore Architects and Magnusson Architecture and Planning are assisting with the design.
Again and again, officials on Thursday stressed the project was in its infancy, and community input was a central part of the planning process that would identify pressure points and ultimately shape any final plans.
“Our commitment is to come here often and answer questions,” said Xenolith principal Andrea Kretchmer.
YWCA NENY Executive Director Kim Siciliano said the 90-year-old building requires significant upkeep, and only 70 percent of its space can be utilized.
The non-profit’s Single Room Occupancy program currently provides women with emergency, temporary and permanent housing.
At present, a total of 55 women reside in two on-campus buildings.
Xenolith principal Terri Belkas-Mitchell said as part of the process to secure financing, the firm will be required to a show a demand for renters to fill the new units.
Attendees asked officials to definitively state the potential net gain of apartment-dwellers to the neighborhood as well as the impact on parking spaces, which are limited.
Belkas-Mitchell said the net gain would be 52 people if 35 new units were constructed based on a calculation of 1.5 people per unit.
At present, YWCA NENY has 50 parking spots located in the rear of the property. Plans call for the number to be increased to 80.
Siciliano said parking is seldom a problem because the non-profit’s 20 staffers arrive to work just as current residents, all of them women, are leaving in the morning.
The project, she said, would actually help alleviate congestion along Washington Avenue.
"By moving the service area to the back, we wouldn’t have that bottleneck that happens at the end of Union Street,” Siciliano said.
Most residents are employed, said Siciliano, who believes it's important to keep women receiving YWCA services in the community, where many work.
Perhaps over time, they can be transitioned into the new permanent housing, she said.
Other meeting attendees cited concerns over what they contended was a “dissipating" city tax base owing to non-profits who are exempt from paying property taxes.
The new rental units would not be tax-exempt.
“We don’t know what those taxes would be, but it’d be generating property taxes,” Belkas-Mitchell said.
The expansion effort would use sustainable design principles whenever possible, including green space on a campus-type setting, she said.
“We have a keen interest in sustainability and resilience measures,” Belkas-Mitchell said.
YWCA NENY said the rental of new housing units, which would be overseen by a third-party management company, would generate a new revenue stream that has the potential to provide long-term financial stability to the non-profit, which has operated at the current location since 1930.
New rental units will also ideally cover expenses and bring rents down for supportive housing.
Increasing the size of the organization’s early education center, typically an income generator, is also part of the project, as well as the renovation of existing spaces that may be made available for community events.
“We would be able to create more income-generating space,” Belkas-Mitchell said.
Siciliano said the prospects of reopening the swimming pool, which was shuttered due to a prohibitively high annual operating cost of $150,000, is also being researched.
Xenolith aims to apply for project financing in fall of 2020, with construction beginning the following summer.
Construction would take approximately 18 to 24 months, with the new units available to rent by summer 2023 based on that timeline.
Marshall wondered if lower Union Street and Washington Avenue homeowners would unload their property if the project came to fruition, opening the door to absentee landlords.
“I’m disappointed that it’s obviously a done deal,” he said.
Project stakeholders said the plan is in no way complete.
The feasibility study will determine what zoning permits would be required for the project — and if the proposal would be able to meet them to begin with.
“We haven’t started,” said Belkas-Mitchell. “We have a ways to go before we get there with planning and zoning.”