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One Project Ends, Another Begins In Downtown Albany

Groundbreaking ceremonies Wednesday started a new chapter in residential living in downtown Albany.

Ceremonies were held at the Ida Yarbrough Apartments off North Pearl Street, where a ribbon-cutting celebrated 61 "innovative" apartments and townhomes redeveloped under phase one of a $45 million construction project. The initiative includes 11 buildings with roof gardens, a large community garden, and a playground. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan:   "This is beautiful. And there are roof gardens that are helping with storm water runoff. There's a beautiful community garden really at the center of these homes, and they surround this beautiful community garden with raised beds. There's a playground. This is a wonderful environment and it really creates a sense of home, a sense of community, a sense of safety, and it's all affordable. So this is really hitting on a number of things that we are prioritizing here in the city, which is affordable housing, which is going green and which is making sure there is access to healthy food."

The high-tech units are marketed to families that earn below 50 percent of the median income. Rent is set at 30 percent of a household's gross income. Albany Housing Authority Executive Director Steve Longo says upgrading Ida Yarbrough is critical to downtown's vitality.  "Multiple generations from the '70s have raised their families here. It had been renovated twice and had  outlived its viability. So without somebody working really hard to get the critical mass of funds to do the demo and the reconstruction, the community was definitely in danger, in jeopardy of losing 124 apartments where the rent is based on your income, so they're affordable. So that's the important thing. We've created another 50 years of affordable housing, if we take care of this. Which I promise we will."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Proctors Theatre CEO Philip Morris looks on as Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan addresses the gathering.

New floor plans and green amenities make apartments feel more like home. Mayor Sheehan, a Democrat, spoke just outside a refurbished residence:   "When we know where the community wants us to go, we remain bound and determined to get them there, and I think you look around today and this probably exceeds everybody's expectations for what they imagined for this project."

Shovel in hand, Sheehan joined other officials for a ceremonial groundbreaking of phase two of the redevelopment project, which ultimately will provide 76 units for low- and moderate-income families on two sites. Officials say it’s the first time the Albany Housing Authority is using state and federal tax credits for a mixed-income community.

Ida Yarbrough, the project's namesake, was a well-known civic and community leader in mid-20th century Albany. Jasmine Higgins says her great-grandmother would be honored to see the complex today.  "Her son John Jennings tried to implement this idea that she had had, 'cause she was a member of the Urban League. She cared about the community and she believed everyone should have access to a nice, affordable house. So I think that the work they've done here is truly tremendous, you know. It's a great way to honor her legacy and what she believed in."

161 new homes will stand when the project is finished.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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