New city of Albany homeownership program

Thumbnail image for spanish-style houseThe city of Albany and group of the city's largest employers today announced a new package of incentives to encourage people to buy homes in the city.

The incentives include zero-interest and forgivable loans for down payments and closing costs, and in some cases grants for home improvements.

If this gets more people to live in Albany, great. The city could use more homeowners (as do many of the Capital Region's other urban centers) -- as long as those people really can afford to buy a house . And if it gets more people living closer to where they work, even better -- a short commute pays off in all sorts of ways.

Highlights from the program after the jump, along with the full press release.

Highlights from the "Choose Albany" program

+ A "Citywide Homebuyer Assistance Loan" offers new homebuyers "a zero percent interest rate loan for up to $15,000 toward down payment and closing costs." There are no income restrictions, but there is a home price cutoff: $200k.

+ A "Capital City Employer Incentive" offers a $5,000 forgivable loan to Albany city employees who buy a home in the city. The loan is prorated over five years -- if the employee still owns the home at the end of the term, the full loan is forgiven.

+ The College of St. Rose is offering its employees "a $7,500 forgivable loan toward down payment and closing costs plus a $2,500 grant for eligible home improvements."

+ Albany Medical Center is offering its employees "a $5,000 forgivable loan toward down payment and closing costs within their targeted boundaries."

+ The University at Albany is offering its employees "a $5,000 - $6,000 grant toward down payment and closing costs within its targeted boundaries."

+ CDTA is pledging one bus pass to each homebuyer who uses the Albany citywide assistance loan, as long as the home is within a half mile of a transit stop.

+ The city's program is a pilot, and money will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The city says it hopes to assist as many as 70 homebuyers with the initial program.

As with anything like this, there are more details and qualifications. It will probably pay to do the homework. (rimshot)

Full press release

A copy/past of the press release:

MAYOR JENNINGS ANNOUNCES NEW CITY OF ALBANY

HOMEOWNERSHIP PROGRAM

Local Employers Participate to Offer Incentives for New Homeowners in the City of Albany

Albany, NY - Mayor Jennings today announced a new program aimed at encouraging new home buyers in the City of Albany. The Mayor was joined by The College of Saint Rose, Albany Medical Center, and the University at Albany, local employers who are offering special incentives to their employees who will live in the employer's surrounding neighborhoods in the City of Albany.

Homeownership and owner-occupied homes are proven to be a stabilizing force in neighborhoods. This was reinforced during the City's Albany 2030 planning effort where local participants identified homeownership and supporting livable, walkable neighborhoods as a priority and called for increased efforts to incentivize homeownership in the City. The City of Albany has developed Choose Albany as a pilot program to meet these needs.

The program, Choose Albany, includes incentives targeted for City employees as well as anyone buying a home Citywide. The Citywide Homebuyer Assistance Loan offers new homebuyers a zero percent interest rate loan for up to $15,000 toward down payment and closing costs. There are no income restrictions and eligible homes citywide selling for up to $200,000. The sales price is capped at $200,000 in order to target strategic housing stock and areas Citywide. The home must be owner occupied for the term of the loan.

The program works with homebuyers who have been approved by any accredited lender for their primary mortgage. As a part of this announcement Mayor Jennings has challenged area lenders to take part in this initiative by offering an added incentive to participating homebuyers.

The program is intended to assist a wide array of new homebuyers, including existing renters in the City that want to own their homes, workers who want to live near where they work and those searching in the Capital Region who want to Choose Albany. "The City of Albany is a premier place to live, work and learn and we want to help people who are considering owning a home to Choose Albany" said Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings.

The second component of the City's program is the Capital City Employer Incentive program which offers a $5,000 forgivable loan to City of Albany employees purchasing a home within the City. The program encourages City employees to live and invest where they work.

"We are committed to continuing to support home ownership. Working with our local employers and institutions to support our walkable neighborhoods is a great way to achieve that", said Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings. "Especially during these challenging economic times -helping our residents at a local level invest in our neighborhoods and build 'wealth' locally is important. I want to thank these partners and I encourage other local employers to step up and participate with us."

In addition to the City of Albany, The College of Saint Rose, Albany Medical Center, the University of Albany and the Capital District Transportation Authority, the founding partners of this program, have also teamed up to offer incentives to new homebuyers in the City of Albany.

The College of Saint Rose portion of the Choose Albany program offers their employees a $7,500 forgivable loan toward down payment and closing costs plus a $2,500 grant for eligible home improvements.

"Choose Albany for Home Ownership is a hallmark of the College's mission and founding values of engagement with our city. Home ownership is such a vital guarantor of neighborhood stability, particularly when you can work, live, shop and enjoy cultural events all within walking distance. It's what makes Pine Hills a wonderful place to live, and I hope this program will encourage our employees to choose this neighborhood as their 'hometown,'" said Saint Rose President R. Mark Sullivan.

The Albany Medical Center portion of the Choose Albany program offers their employees a $5,000 forgivable loan toward down payment and closing costs within their targeted boundaries.

"Albany Medical Center is pleased to once again partner with the City of Albany to help promote homeownership among Medical Center employees" said James Barba, President and Chief Executive Officer of Albany Medical Center. "Being the largest private employer in the City of Albany we are proud to step up to be a partner in this program and we look forward to other private employers doing the same. We encourage our employees to live in the neighborhoods they serve and this program is another great way to achieve that and help support our great Albany neighborhoods."

The participation of UAlbany, through the University at Albany Foundation, in the Choose Albany program, offers employees a $5,000 - $6,000 grant toward down payment and closing costs within its targeted boundaries.

"UAlbany is pleased to team up with our partners in the City and leading area organizations to continue reinvestment in Albany's historic neighborhoods," said UAlbany President, George Philip. "For the past five years, the University has made this benefit available to staff and faculty to attract new residents to Midtown and contribute to a dynamic and diverse future. We look forward to helping this program grow."

In addition, CDTA announced it will pledge one bus pass per household to each new homebuyer that utilizes the Choose Albany Citywide Loan. The home purchased must be within 0.5 miles of a transit stop in order to qualify. Promoting owner occupied housing in transit supportive neighborhoods is part of CDTA's comprehensive Transportation Demand Management Program ("TDM") and is essential in convincing people to regularly take the bus to work.

"CDTA is pleased to renew its partnership with the City of Albany to support job access and promote connectivity within the City and our region," said CDTA CEO Carm Basile. Homeowner Try Transit programs have been very successful with the majority of past participants choosing to continue to ride CDTA and enjoy its many benefits after the program ends."

The City's Choose Albany program is a pilot program and funds are on a first come first serve basis. The overall program aims to assist as many as 70 new homeowners and may increase as additional employers or other participants come on board.

The partners are taking applications immediately for prospective homebuyers who have been pre-approved by their lending partners. For more information on this program or to find the online application and others please visit: www.albanyny.org

###

For additional information on the Choose Albany Citywide Homebuyer Assistance Loan or the Capital City Employer Incentive program please contact John Kisselback at (518) 434-2532 x27.

Saint Rose employees should contact Jeffrey Knapp in the Human Resources Office for additional information (518) 454-5138.

Albany Medical Center employees should contact the Human Resources Department at (518) 262-4019 for additional information on the program.

University at Albany employees should contact Jeffrey Jones, CFO of the University at Albany Foundation, (518) 437-5097 for additional information on the program.

Comments

Here's an idea. Lower taxes!

This is what happens when you have a city whose tax rate is $6700 per year for a home worth $200,000. You need gimmicks to revive home ownership. This will do nothing. The flight to the cheaper suburbs will continue. 90 years of democratic rule will do that.

now if only they could do something about the city school district then i might consider buying a house in the city of albany.

This type of program is long overdue. Albany is at least 10 years - maybe even 20 years - behind the times with this one. Other cities have had programs like this for years.

Tim and colleen,

Really? 57% of Albany's land in UNTAXABLE. So, in order to lower taxes we need either

A) to lay people off (the largest chunk of expenses in this city is salary)
or
B) get people and business to locate here.

A. isn't a strategy to improve things. You don't get more from less, you get less.

B. Albany suffers greatly from negative perceptions constantly spewed from the mouths of people who both won't work towards making things better, and refuse to grasp that the consequences of 20+ years of shrinking investment in cities this size (both privately and publicly) eventually take their toll. One need not look further than to heavily subsidized residential and commercial development in areas of the region that should not be developed in this manner. We don't teach our children to run away from their problems, and we tell them to share. Unless those concepts can be grasped by adults, I guess things will never change for the better.

Finally, I believe the schools in Albany are fantastic. I'm an Albany Alum myself. There's a systematic campaign going on to undermine great effort by our teachers and bury all the news of great things that happen here. Once that force can be overcome, and it will, things will begin to look better.

@ daleyplanit - damn right

easy fix: how about if you are employed by the city of Albany, you must be a resident of the city of Albany?

nothing like keepin' it local...

(oh, and also put houses on that HUGE parcel of tax exempt land/parking lots that is the Harriman Campus)

@daley--Fantastic? I think not. Both Albany High School and Hackett Middle School are on the State Ed. Dept's list of persistently LOWEST achieving schools. There are a very small number of students that the Albany City School District does well by, but the school district as a whole is not fantastic. It isn't even good.
Unless I could afford to send my child to private school there is no way I would buy property in the Albany City School District no matter what grants/financial assistance I was give to buy the house. (And before we start the battle cry: I’m not blaming the teachers for the situation, but they are PART of the equation that results in the school being a "persistently lowest achieving school".)

@Rebecca: But isn't one of the perks of living in America being allowed to work & live where you choose? That wacky life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness idea is the founding principle of our country.
If the government could tell it's employees where to live, then why not the private sector? & what if where you want to live, there aren't jobs that allow you to be able to afford to live there (Hello Columbia County!)? Or what if you hate where you work?
Slippery slope there, lady.

Besides, I alumni from Albany High, Albany Academy & whatever's in between.. No school district can fix stupid.

@Rebecca, putting housing on the Harriman Campus would be the WORST possible use of that property! It is far more conducive to commercial/industrial uses, which would add significantly greater value to the Albany tax base. (Assuming, of course, that Jennings doesn't provide huge tax incentives, as he is prone to do.)

Rebecca - agreed. Too much valuable land is exempt from property tax in the city. The State's entire governmental infrastructure is based here, and they're not going to suddenly pull up stakes and leave; it would simply cost too much to relocate. Perhaps it's time to give a little back to the city the State calls home.

dear Sally,
already certain jobs have location requirements (Guilderland cops must live in land of Guilder, I had client who practiced some sort of public law who had to live in Rensselaer county etc.). And yes, the private sector does have location requirements for certain jobs: sales territories, etc. Jobs *already* come with certain requirements ie. "must have bachelor's degree" although we know many jobs a monkey could do. If residency was a requirement, I suppose those folks who didn't want to live in the specified area, they wouldn't apply. I've heard there are lots of teaching jobs in Florida, Arkansas and Alabama, but neither my husband nor I want to live there, so he doesn't apply. And this is specifically a suggestion on how to get more city residents.

Ellen, of course the Harriman parcel would be well suited to commercial/industrial (or the "new urban village" ie mixed use commercial/residential like in the "olden" days) , but I said housing for my own selfish interests, since my street dead ends at the campus! Anyway, I am cynical enough to assume that any commercial development would be accompanied by huge tax breaks (see The Alexander apt. building) which would defeat the whole purpose of relieving the tax burden on residents.

I don't like that Citywide Homebuyer Assistance Loan thing. I'm not a homeowner, but aren't closing costs and the down payment supposed to be ready to be paid on-hand by the buyer? Didn't we get into the housing mess partially because banks kept giving out zero-down payment loans to people who bought houses beyond their means?

Also, it's not just the State owned land that is tax exempt in Albany. It's also the Nano College, the hospitals, other supposedly non-profit instutitions, and all of the accompanying infrastructure (parking garages, condos for doctors, etc.). Why not ask these folks to pay their fair share at least for services like snow cleanup and trash pickup?

The city could cut costs by lowering the level of city services. I'm not saying planning or infrastructure, but the number of services the city does is much larger than city governments in say, Virginia.

More to the point, pretending that crime and a failing school system are not issues does not, in fact, make them not issues. Albany has large areas that are not safe at night. It is one of the most dangerous cities in New York State. Until you make Albany (or Troy, or Schenectady) a good place to raise children, the middle class is going to choose better places, like Saratoga. Until a feeling of safety extends outside of a few neighborhoods, couples are not going to buy in. This is reality, and boosterism does not change the cold truth.

Citation for danger claims: http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/crimnet/ojsa/indexcrimes/2010-county-index-rates.pdf

Citation for failing school system claim: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33785515/Alb-Any-High

Marty, with all due respect, and I'm saying this as a real-life friend and not some anonymous commentator... When you're dealing with your child's life and future, you HAVE TO put realism ahead of idealism. While I greatly respect those (like you) who stay and fight the good fight, I think it's ridiculous to say Albany schools are fantastic, when they're consistently ranked 50 out of 50 for the entire region. I'm not interested in being a community organizer & working every day trying to make irresponsible parents give a crap, and "teaching my son not to run away from problems", which is why we're in the process of leaving Albany for a better school district. There are many ways to be socially responsible, and I hope you can respect those of us who choose not to make the Albany school systems our personal crusade.

Meh. Then let the Albanians run Albany.

If the 'burbs had the same proportion of disadvantaged kids as the cities, the suburban schools would not come out any better than the city schools do. And people who earn from the city should live in the city, and if they don't want to, they are free to get a job somewhere else.

People want their cities available when they need a hospital or something interesting to do, or to pee on someone's property after getting drunk at a city-sponsored event, but they sure love feeling superior about their schools. I went to a highly rated suburban school district that my parents paid huge taxes for, and I saw enough there to know its a false sense of security.

When people say "low achieving," they mean low test scores, right? The tests that have systematic bias against certain types of learners? The tests that mostly measure access to high-paid private tutors? How do you think Asian countries have higher test scores?

The dangers of crime in Albany are exaggerated by a conditioned fear response. You're far more likely to choke on your own vomit and die than you are to get killed violently in a city, but people make irrational and hasty decisions when motivated by fear and guns are scary. To say that white flight (that's what we're talking about, right?) is a rational decision made "for the children" is ludicrous, though. If you wanted to keep your children safe you'd keep them out of cars and buses. Unless you think they're safe sitting in a daisy chain of idling diesel engines in front of the school, in which case more power to you I guess.

My decision to leave Albany because of schools is not based soly on test scores or the >50% graduation rate, although that's certainly part of it. I'm also taking into consideration the stories my teacher friends tell me who work in the Albany schools, and take note of their decision to send their own children elsewhere. Also, I'm taking into account my own negative experiences of going through the Albany school system. So, you can blame a vast conspiracy by invisible forces, you can blame unfair testing that favors rich kids, but moving simply gives my son much better academic odds. And at the end of the day, we live our life by the odds, don't we?

I'm not sure how I feel about this program yet. But I read the comments and have a few of my own.

1) I believe legislation does exist to address the question of what tax-exempts such as colleges and hospitals should contribute. Whether or not it is in motion, I cannot say for sure.

2) The homeownership-encouragement program may be something that hospitals and the colleges will use as currency to make the argument that they already contribute enough to the City of Albany (even if the program is little-used, which, for a variety of reasons, it will be).

3) Mayor Jennings has either been outmaneuvered by these institutions or is acquiescing to the program in exchange for political (and through legal back-channels, financial) support in 2013. Both are correct: Mayor Jennings has given away the farm in exchange for a future crop.

Readers: please start considering the political dynamics involved in public policy and personnel decisions. The lack of consideration for these "dynamics" has stymied political change in Albany for far too long by allowing "Progressives" of all stripes to be outmaneuvered.

I choose option A. I want less for less.

Personally, as a nonprofit employee (with my low-even-for-management-nonprofit-salary) who has rented in Albany for 8 years because I couldn't scrape together a decent down payment for a house, this plan actually looks as though it'll put home ownership within reach for me. I'm glad for it, and I'm definitely going to be checking out the details.

Also, I know many people who've moved out of Albany once their children reached school age because of the school ratings. I understand being concerned for your child's safety. That's legitimate.

However, I went to an inner-city school growing up, and never knew I went to a "bad school" until I started reading the newspaper. I was in the honor society, was accepted to several excellent colleges and many of my friends went to Ivy League schools. The majority of the kids in my graduating class now have great jobs (or, at least, jobs that pay the rent) and we've all turned out OK. Plus, I feel safe in speaking for my school classmates and saying that attending an inner-city school gave us a more balanced and tolerant view of social struggles and social economics than we might have had if we'd all gone to "good schools."

Long story short: if you're worried about the safety of the schools, that's one thing. But I strongly believe that public schools are what you, your family and your friends make of it.

Mayor is spending tax dollars to those areas that he will get donations for the elections. Albany mayor rebuilds schools and libraries just to create businesses to those construction companies. Albany increases taxes and gives away tax dollars to homebuyers. Why don't you try to lower taxes, improve education, clear streets from drug dealers and improve security in Albany City.
If you can find the problem and try to fix it it will cost less.

I know a lot of parents here in Albany who are very happy with the schools. My own child will be attending a public school next year. Not because of any crusade, but because we like living here and like our neighbors.

People get so fired up about schools, but most parents are really just trying to make the best decisions they can, most of which they will agonize over and second-guess forever ;-)

@ Jacob: and you have just summed up the Albany (but not just!) approach to economic and urban development. A central pillar of the "gimmick" economy is giving public goods away to private entities due to the forlorn assumption that these entities will then turn that benefit to the public good. The reality is that they most often do not, and certainly not in a way that the average citizen can identify and experience. Occupy Albany.

mr slow loris,

I have four kids in a large Capital Region suburban school district who took the state standardized tests last year.

Eight grader (honors Math and English)
Math score 3
ELA score 3

Fifth grader (now in Accelerated Math and Gifted courses)
Math score 4 (actually had a perfect score of 780)
ELA 4

Third Grader #1 (receives AIS services in reading, writing and math)
Math score 3
ELA score 3

Third Grader #2 (receives Special Ed services in reading and writing)
Math score 3 (two points shy of a 4)
ELA score 3

Private tutors- ZERO

Just because a person lives in the suburbs does not mean they are rich, or that they can afford private tutors.

All the program links are dead here and home ownership debate rages on - it's an election year! - consider doing a follow-up. AHP still has some programs: http://ahphome.org/down-payment-programs.html Does the city? Albany Med? The County? Nano? SUYA? Worth a look!

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