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Schenectady, Land Bank look at future of 34 blighted properties

Schenectady, Land Bank look at future of 34 blighted properties

Agency will recommend demolition or renovation depending on condition
Schenectady, Land Bank look at future of 34 blighted properties
720 Crane St. is demolished in 2017. The Capital Region Land Bank was involved in the effort.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady officials and the Capital Region Land Bank will work together to find a strategy for 34 more blighted properties in the city.

The City Council approved the agreement Monday. There isn’t a large expenditure of funds involved, and the collaboration won’t provide a resolution for the properties, only set a path to demolition or renovation.

But it is seen as another step in continuing a campaign that has seen nearly 200 derelict structures demolished in the city over the last several years. 

Two weeks ago the city announced eight more demolitions to be completed this year, and Better Neighborhoods Inc. announced it would renovate 20 foreclosed but salvageable houses for purchase by low- to middle-income buyers.

Monday’s announcement puts the Land Bank in a consulting role, evaluating whether structures existing on the 34 properties can be saved for an economically feasible sum of money or would best be demolished.

Capital Region Land Bank Executive Director David Hogenkamp said the project will cost about $30,000 in total. Most of the work can be done by Land Bank staff, which has accumulated experience in this type of evaluation. It needs to hire certified professionals only for technical work such as asbestos remediation.

Most of the structures will likely need to be demolished, he said.

“The idea is to take the worst of the worst off-line so someone doesn’t take them and rent them out,” he said.

The 34 properties targeted by this collaboration are:

  • 1052, 1062 and 1101 Barrett St.
  • 726, 815 and 1023 Bridge St.
  • 1066 Chrisler St.
  • 552, 578, 658, 702, 938, 956, 962 and 1002 Crane St.
  • 742, 746, 760 and 1012 Eastern Ave.
  • 1336 Eighth Ave.
  • 1520 Fifth Ave.
  • 1213 First Ave.
  • 792 Francis Ave.
  • 602 Hattie St.
  • 16 Jefferson St.
  • 10 Nott Terrace Heights
  • 602 Orchard St.
  • 933 Pleasant St.
  • 110 Prospect St.
  • 1126, 1227 and 1530 Third Ave.
  • 1568 and 1681 Van Vranken Ave.

The structures on some sites already have been demolished; in these cases, the Land Bank will recommend what to do with the vacant land.

“This is part of a comprehensive and focused effort on demolitions, renovations and home sales that will continue to add value in our community by putting properties back on the tax rolls, while will enhance our efforts to strengthen neighborhoods,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said in a news release Tuesday. “Last year, we sold a record number of city-owned properties and we look forward to continuing to build upon that progress.”

The campaign to fight blight with demolition, construction and renovation is a multi-pronged and often collaborative effort by the city; non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity and Better Neighborhoods Inc.; private developers leveraging assorted tax credits and other creative financing; the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority; and the Land Bank, which is operated by Metroplex.

Hogenkamp said the Capital Region Land Bank is continuing its own demolition efforts as it collaborates with the other agencies. As much as possible, he said, the properties will be targeted to create a benefit greater than a single demolition. If a handful of blighted properties on a single block are knocked down in succession, for example, or if a derelict structure next to a new building is demolished, that can create a momentum toward improvement in the area.

“I think the key is it’s all part of our organized effort,” he said. “You’re changing the whole fabric of the neighborhood.”

But the Land Bank is open to requests, too, Hogenkamp said. If there’s a zombie property that’s particularly problematic, neighbors can call the Land Bank with suggestions. 

Sometimes, he said, the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

As it helps decide the fate of the 34 properties, the Capital Region Land Bank is potentially nearing a turning point of its own.

New York’s land banks — there are more than two dozen statewide — are funded through money secured by the state Attorney General’s Office in settlements after the credit crisis and housing crisis of the Great Recession a decade ago.

That money is running out: The $2 million grant the Capital Region Land Bank got for 2019-2020 — $1 million of which is earmarked for Schenectady demolitions — is the last appropriation it will get from that source. 

The New York Land Bank Association is lobbying for a new state funding stream, Hogenkamp said.

The land bank model was designed to be at least partly self-sustaining, Hogenkamp said — acquire derelict and foreclosed properties at no cost, fix or demolish them, sell them, use the money to buy more sites, fix and sell those. But the costs exceed the income, he said.

Without a new source of funding, the Capital Region Land Bank’s work in Schenectady County and Amsterdam will be curtailed.

Hogenkamp said being able to rely on Metroplex for resources and personnel makes the situation more tenable for the Capital Region Land Bank than for standalone land banks. Some of those land banks also work in commercial and industrial property as part of an economic development effort, while in Schenectady County that work is handled by Metroplex and its separate funding stream.

“The difference is our land bank is another tool in the tool box,” he said. “In other communities, the land bank is the tool box.”

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