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NYS AG Visits Newburgh To Launch Affordable Rental Housing Program

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was in Newburgh Friday to announce the launch of a pilot program to transform vacant homes into affordable housing. The funding for the program comes from the bank settlements. The program provides subsidies to land banks.

State Attorney General Schneiderman stood in front of a boarded-up house on Lander Street to announce the new “Neighbors for Neighborhoods” pilot program.

“Neighbors for Neighborhoods” is going to help people in communities like this take over and rebuild dilapidated property, abandoned properties, and turn them into affordable rental housing,” says Schneiderman. “This is something that we have not done before. We’ve been dealing with home ownership issues, primarily, dealing with commercial properties, remediation of brownfields. We’re now moving into the area of rental properties. It’s a very exciting project.”

Schneiderman says the program is designed to address two problems — the ongoing shortage of affordable rental homes and epidemic of abandoned and dilapidated properties that invite crime and drag down property values.

“The program is going to be run through our local land banks and this is a pilot project but we think it’s got tremendous potential and we’re very happy to be rolling it out here in Newburgh,” Schneiderman says. “So a neighbor is going to be able to go in at very low cost, apply for a grant, rehab a property and maintain it as affordable rental housing. It helps the community. It helps the neighborhood. It helps everybody. It’s particularly important for communities like this because lower property values affect the tax base, they affect crime. This is something that is a part of a comprehensive approach to dealing with the need to revive cities all across New York state.”

Funding for the program will come from the Attorney General’s 2014 and 2015 settlements with Citigroup and Bank of America over the banks’ conduct leading up to the 2008 housing crash. The new program will provide land banks across the state with $4 million in subsidies. Madeline Fletcher, executive director of Newburgh Community Land Bank, has high hopes for the program.

“It’s very hard for an individual to finance one of these rehabs. They’re very expensive. The value after rehab is not… you probably spend more than you get in value at the end and so it’s hard to finance,” says Fletcher. “So we’re hoping that this infusion of dollars along with the support, with training and technical assistance and capacity building, that this’ll really enable local people who might not otherwise be able to purchase one of our properties because of the lack of financing, the lack of know-how, this will help build that capacity.”

Her land bank, as with all land banks, has to apply and be selected. Judi Kende is vice president and New York Market Leader for nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, which will administer the program.  

“The request for qualifications for land banks to participate in the new program will be available this fall,” says Kende. “Land banks must demonstrate that they have the capacity to select and train responsible local property owners, supervise the rehabilitation and oversee quality rental operations for at least 20 years.”

Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy likes the idea.

“And this is the place to have affordable housing, really,” Kennedy says. “I have been one to say bring it back to the neighborhoods. Don’t build another big box.”

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, whose district office is a few blocks from the Lander Street address, see the pilot program as a necessary revitalization tool for the city.

“There is nothing wrong with the City of Newburgh that cannot be fixed by what is right by the City of Newburgh,” Maloney says. “And it starts by giving the people who live here and who have suffered through its economic decline the tools necessary to rebuild the city themselves and to benefit from that Renaissance.”

The initiative was inspired by such successful land bank efforts as 13 Chambers Street in Newburgh. The property, which was acquired by the Newburgh Community Land Bank in 2013, was renovated by a local architect and now provides three families with affordable rental housing.  

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