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Work on Schenectady's Renaissance Square project to begin later this month

Work on Schenectady's Renaissance Square project to begin later this month

Construction of affordable housing project that will create 55 apartments along Eastern Avenue expected to take one year
Work on Schenectady's Renaissance Square project to begin later this month
The former St. Mary's School on Irving Street in Schenectady is shown in this photo taken Friday, Nov. 29.
Photographer: Erica Miller / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Developers have secured financing for an affordable housing project that will create 55 apartments along Eastern Avenue.

Construction on the Renaissance Square project is set to begin Dec. 18.

“Construction will take almost a year,” said Better Neighborhoods Inc. Executive Director James Flacke. “This is a long project and doesn’t just happen overnight.” 

The plan calls for the old St. Mary’s School at 104 Irving St. to be converted into 25 apartments. 

Three vacant commercial buildings at 817, 819 and 823 Eastern Ave. at the intersection with University Place will be demolished and replaced with a new building containing 30 apartment units. 

Better Neighborhoods is partnering with Rochester-based Home Leasing on the effort, and a new entity, Irving Community LCC, has been created for its ownership. 

The bulk of the funding for the $20.1 million project comes from state and federal housing tax credits. 

Capital Region Land Bank provided $400,000 for asbestos remediation. 

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Property at 817-823 Eastern Ave set to be torn down, construction will begin for the new Renaissance Square, in Schenectady on Friday, November 29, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Property at 817-823 Eastern Ave, set to be torn down, in Schenectady on Friday, November 29, 2019.

Flacke briefed several neighborhood associations about the project on Tuesday. 

The plan required zoning adjustments because many of its details wouldn’t conform to residential zoning district regulations.

Despite project approval by city authorities, several residents continue to harbor concerns over parking spaces and too little setback from property boundaries.

Many homes on University Place and Irving Street lack driveways.

Agnes Villano uses a mobility device and is worried about losing her on-street parking — especially in the winter. 

And she also worries about the new playground slated to be built directly behind her Eastern Avenue home. 

“That was one of my biggest concerns when they started this project,” Villano said.

The project will contain roughly 35 parking spaces in the existing lot behind Eastern Avenue, as well as between 10 and 12 in the lot attached to St. Mary’s.

Flacke acknowledged parking has been a concern, and believes slots in the units’ parking lot will be assigned to tenants. 

Research conducted as part of the planning process indicates that one-third of the incoming tenants will have a car, Flacke said.

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Property at 817-823 Eastern Ave set to be torn down, construction will begin for the new Renaissance Square, in Schenectady on Friday, November 29, 2019.ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Property at 817-823 Eastern Ave, set to be torn down, in Schenectady on Friday, November 29, 2019.

“We have more than enough spaces for a third of the clients,” he said. 

Flacke said the effort will likely reduce quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood, including vagrancy. 

“I expect there to be a few problems but we will work them through.” 

Eastern Avenue Neighborhood President Bob Harvey asked how the project would square with the new statewide rent reform laws that make it more difficult to screen tenants. 

Landlords are now prohibited from using a tenant’s previous evictions or landlord-tenant disputes against them.
 
“I think it’s going to be important for this project to screen tenants at a satisfactory level,” Harvey said.

While Flacke said it’s now illegal to discriminate based on sources of income, landlords remain free to conduct background checks and solicit references for tenants.

“Tenants with a Section 8 voucher can apply to live there,” he said.

The key demographic for the rentals will be people who already live in the neighborhood who want to move into better housing.

“These are targeted to residents living in the neighborhood,” Flacke said. 

Rent will be between $590 to $1,000 per month, and developers expect the units to be fully-rented by November 2021.

Officials have said while the long-vacant St. Mary’s Catholic School looks rough on the outside, the interior is solid.

Flacke said Better Neighborhoods doesn’t have any other high-profile projects on the immediate horizon.

However, he estimated the non-profit’s merger with the Community Land Trust would be finalized anywhere “between a week and three months.”

The new name, he said, will be Better Community Neighborhoods, Inc. 

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