A chunk of money for chipping away at the number of vacant buildings in Albany

Clinton Ave Habitat house next land bank house

The blue building on the left is an Albany County Land Bank property has been rehabbed by Habitat for Humanity Capital District -- the one on the right is another land bank property.

The city of Albany is offering $50,000 to people looking to take on the challenge of fixing up a vacant building and putting it back to use.

Kathy Sheehan mentioned the initiative -- the aptly-titled Vacant Building Rehabilitation Program -- during her state of the city address early this year. And on Tuesday the city released the details of the program, which is backed by $1 million.

What's involved

The goal of the program is to help span the financial gap on projects where the cost of renovating a vacant building is likely more than what the building will be worth after its finished, and in the process help stabilize blocks. The city has hundreds of vacant buildings and many of them are in (or near) this category.

(Many vacant properties in the city are, or will eventually be, available to purchase via the Albany County Land Bank -- the org recently got a hold of another 265 properties in the city.)

The program is being administered through the Albany Community Development Agency, an arm of the city. It's offering up to $50,000 in the form of a forgivable loan for selected projects. The selection criteria, from the program packet:

1. The project must reduce blight, contributing to the economic recovery of the target area,
2. And/or the project must be located in a neighborhood with a significant number of vacant and/or abandoned buildings
3. And the project must be a vacant building under the Albany City Code Chapter 133 Article XI and XIA;
4. And the project must include renovation of residential or commercial units resulting in occupancy;
5. And the project must be financially feasible.
For a project to be eligible for funding from Vacant Building Rehabilitation Program, the applicant must demonstrate project feasibility, redevelopment experience, financial stability and structural integrity of the property. A completed pre-application does not guarantee funds from the Vacant Building Rehabilitation Program. All project applications will be presented to the ACDA board for final approval. ACDA reserves the right to reject any application when, in its judgment, rehabilitation of the project is not economically feasible or not in the best interest of neighborhood in which it is located.

The program packet details the many requirements and guidelines that projects must follow to land the funding and then have the loan converted to a grant -- on topics such as zoning, historic preservation, and lead paint. The program also requires that "owners must commit to either living in the residence or renting the residence for a period of at least five years from the date of completion." The loan is forgiven after that period.

Reading through the guidelines, it's pretty clear the city is trying to direct the funding to people who are 1) capable of doing the job and 2) willing to follow through on the requirements.

But Kathy Sheehan said Tuesday reps from the city will help applicants work through the requirements and look for other programs that might piece together other funding.

"We want to open as wide a pool of applicants as possible," Sheehan said. "We want to work with you to bring these building back to life."

Clinton Ave press conference vacant building rehab program

Affordable housing

Affordable housing has been a hot topic in Albany recently, with discussion about folding inclusionary zoning into Rezone Albany. [TU]

The Vacant Building Rehab Program includes an affordable housing provision, requiring rental properties that get the funding to have at least 50 percent of their units be affordable. In this case, "affordable" means a studio could rent for $690, a one-bedroom for $782, a two-bedroom for $968, a three-bedroom for $1,206, and a three bedroom for $1,294 -- all rents including utilities.

(Affordable housing is a big and complicated and important topic and it's something we want to come back to soon.)

The money

As mentioned, the program includes $1 million in overall funding. The money will be distributed as projects are approved, and when it's gone, it's gone.

The backstory on the funding is a little odd. The roots of the money stretch back three decades when the city of Albany made a loan for an affordable housing project as part of a federal program that no longer exists. The $1 million is the repayment of the loan, via the feds.


+ The push to breathe life into the buildings that breathed light

+ Bringing Albany buildings back from blight and making them into owner-occupied homes


Glad to see the city trying to address this problem but wonder if the money could be better spent by working with the Albany Community Land Trust or a similar organization. The land trust rehabs homes and sells them but retains ownership of the underlying land. This means that the homes are much more affordable than they would be otherwise, and most importantly that they remain affordable in perpetuity: www.albanyclt.com

While the program may save some houses, what works to save a neighborhood is owner occupied homes---investing not only time, but "presence" makes a significant difference. glad to see that occupancy is a component---but disappointed that renting it out is an option.

I agree with jsc - owner occupied is the key. Though I wish they had this program 30 years ago when I bought a house in Albany.

Although owner-occupied is probably best, I don't think it's necessary in order to have a good neighborhood. The majority of residents in New York City rent, and the majority of neighborhoods in the city are nice/decent. I know comparing NYC to Albany is not quite valid, but I think there are other ways to create strong communities if ownership is not viable. I think we need better landlords in Albany who actually screen tenants and maintain their properties. A good landlord is better than having a bunch of homes that had been owned but were then all foreclosed. Albany needs to crackdown on slumlords.

To bad all the properties that St Rose owns doesn't pay their fair share of property taxes . Just think of the difference it would make . Perhaps the time of non profit exemptions becomes a thing of the past .! They seem to be the only ones that can afford to take care and improve their properties

Not that I *necessarily* disagree with you, Mr. Kennedy, but could it be that those non-profits can afford to take care of and improve their properties *because* they're getting a break on property taxes?

I'm on year 2 in my 4 unit (in which I reside), and the 2016 reassessment DOUBLED my property tax bill! During 2015, my rents were covering all property expenses with a bit left over, and I was happy subsidizing that amount with my paycheck to fix up the building: now, I'm a couple hundred a month below the expenses, and I've only got scratch to fix the absolute necessities; I could raise rents, but my tenants are great people with relatively low incomes, and I really don't want to price them out -- puts me in a bit of a pickle...

@Ray Kennedy While they may not cough up the full taxes that would otherwise be due, wouldn't it be great if St. Rose, WAMC, SUNY and St. Peters hospital, chipped in *something*.?...Albany Med just agreed to $500K a year---a drop in the bucket given the value of all their property---but it is the right step forward. (Just to pre-empt the argument: the "economic impact" of these not for profits is real, but only cash pays the bills :-) Getting a free ride is not fair.

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