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State provides $800,000 for Schenectady housing renovations

State provides $800,000 for Schenectady housing renovations

BNI will bring 20 vacant houses up to code and ready for sale to low- and moderate-income buyers
State provides $800,000 for Schenectady housing renovations
The rear exterior of dilapidated house on Eastern Avenue is pictured in 2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — State officials on Thursday announced an $800,000 grant to bring 20 foreclosed houses up to code and prepare them for sale to low- and moderate-income buyers.

Better Neighborhoods Inc. will take the lead on the project, which is funded by New York State Homes and Community Renewal. James Flacke, president of BNI, said his organization will partner on this project with the city of Schenectady, Capital Region Land Bank and Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority. He said single-family houses already owned by the Land Bank or the city will be reviewed and 20 selected, with an emphasis on the Eastern Avenue and Crane Street corridors.

“We’ve been, all of us, focusing on Eastern Avenue and the Crane Street area," Flacke said, referring to BNI and its partners. “We’re trying to make some transformational changes so people that live there or want to live there will see” the difference.

HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said in a news release that this is the goal of the grant and of the Cuomo administration policies behind the grant: strengthening neighborhoods while keeping home ownership affordable to larger swaths of the population.

The grant averages out to $40,000 each for the 20 houses to be fixed but will be less once administrative costs are factored in. So there won’t be enough money for a full rehab of a severely compromised house, Flacke said, and BNI is going to be looking instead for houses that are basically sound but need to be made safe and comfortable before they can be occupied again.

This might be heating or plumbing problems, or some minor cosmetics — the classic fixer-upper with multiple code violations. A house with a crumbling foundation, gaping hole in the roof, century-old knob-and-tube wiring, or frost-ruptured plumbing probably would cost too much to fix up with this particular grant program, Flacke said. It’s more likely a candidate for demolition.

“We won’t be able to fix every home that’s vacant,” he said.

Flacke said it will take about six months for the hammers to start swinging. Work will be done by contractors selected through a bidding process. Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County will be involved as well.

Prospective buyers who meet income requirements can contact BNI to start the process, he said.

They’ll go through a homebuyer education program and receive assistance if needed in learning how to save and budget their money so that they’ll be able to gather a down payment and meet the monthly expenses that face a homeowner.

HCR said buyers may also qualify for the state mortgage agency's Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which was expanded to Schenectady in 2018 and which provides low- and moderate-income homebuyers up to $20,000 for renovations of vacant property.

BNI is a non-profit group that assists with housing development and community renewal. Since it was founded in 1966, it has built or repaired hundreds of houses in Schenectady.

The Capital Region Land Bank has won $8.6 million in grant funding since 2015 to demolish or renovate blighted buildings in Amsterdam and Schenectady. It has demolished more than 170 structures and been part of projects that have build hundreds of new apartments and houses in their place.

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