Capital Region Mayors Discuss Housing Issues

Apr 11, 2014

Several Capital Region mayors gathered in Schenectady Thursday to discuss the housing sector challenges facing their cities.

The mayors’ roundtable was part of the day-long summit “Strengthening Cities, Communities & Homes.” Participants took part in discussions and heard from experts including leaders from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

On the mainstage at Proctors Theater, the mayors of Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, and Amsterdam, all Democrats, offered their thoughts and possible solutions to tackle the most prominent housing issues affecting their communities.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city is focusing on efforts to attract new homebuyers.

"Each of the communities has success stories, where there are good things happening. We're seeing a big uptick in terms of upper-end rental apartments," said McCarthy. "But at the same time it's 'how do we attract middle-class people back to the neighborhoods to be homeowners?'"

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said there’s no shortage of housing in Albany, but the city is home to an estimated 800-1,000 vacant buildings. Sheehan said a solution needs to be developed to get investors to rehabilitate dilapidated buildings, but also see a return on their investment.

"We need to be able to find ways to make the investment that's going to be necessary so that we can really revitalize and bring the vibrancy back to our neighborhoods that we know is possible," said Sheehan. "We have people who want to invest in those neighborhoods. How do we make it affordable to do so?"

Sheehan also mentioned the importance of moving low-income residents out of public housing towers and into the empty neighborhood homes.

Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia said his city has put a focus on the areas of North and South Troy in the five-year plan coming to a close. Rosamilia said improvements to infrastructure and neighborhoods have assisted with downtown Troy’s rejuvenation by attracting new residents and businesses.

Rosamilia said the city is also looking to find ways to decentralize low-income families.

"And at the same time we want to make it is diverse and mixed," said Rosamilia, "so that there is no stigma attached to it."

Prior to taking office in January, Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen began working with local faith organizations and non-profits to establish the city’s first Code Blue program for the homeless.

In those conversations, Yepsen said more needs to be done to assist those most in needs.

"Not only do we need a permanent solution for the homeless, both daytime and nighttime, but we also need temporary housing once they do get off the streets, and enter a program," said Yepsen. "And then some permanent housing that our workforce in our hospitality industry, which is a big industry in Saratoga Springs, can afford to live in."

Yepsen said as her city is becoming more prosperous, the housing market is becoming more competitive, but rising rents are pushing out young professionals and the working class.

At the roundtable, Amsterdam mayor Ann Thane discussed the importance of preserving historical character and engaging with neighborhoods, the city’s focus on waterfront and urban core, and positive messaging, particularly after the murder of two teenagers in 2012.