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New Tool To Encourage Home Ownership In Schenectady

Lucas Willard
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy announces the arrival of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program to Schenectady

The City of Schenectady has introduced a new set of tools designed to assist buyers in rehabilitating vacant properties. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

Schenectady, like many upstate New York cities, has hundreds of vacant or abandoned properties sitting off the tax rolls and falling into disrepair.

An estimated 10 percent of the city’s housing stock is vacant, about 2,000 homes.

Thursday morning, Mayor Gary McCarthy announced a new strategy intended to get more homes sold and help reduce the city’s high property tax rate.

McCarthy cited recent figures released by ATTOM Data Solutions that showed a majority of Americans live in areas where it’s cheaper to rent than own. But Schenectady bucks the trend.

“64 percent of the population of the United States lives in markets where it is more affordable to rent than to own a home. Schenectady is an exception to that; that there’s still long-term value here.”

Schenectady County will now participate in New York’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Sponsored by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, or SONYMA, the program helps buyers make a down payment and provides up to $20,000 for rehabilitating vacant properties.

The whole thing is paid for by $22 million in JPMorgan Chase settlement funds.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas:

“It allows qualified homebuyers to purchase their primary residence and you can include the cost of the renovations to that house in your mortgage, and it’s based on what the house will be worth once it’s complete, not what its worth in its current zombie-state.”

“Zombie properties” is a nickname given to homes that go into foreclosure, but then the foreclosure process is interrupted, leaving the title in a state of limbo. The properties often go into disrepair and, with the added red tape, can be difficult to purchase or even demolish. 

To free up the zombie properties, the City of Schenectady and entities like the Capital Region Land Bank have been buying the blighted homes.

For the NRP program, the city is partnering with non-profit Better Neighborhoods, Inc. to identify vacant buildings.

Better Neighborhoods Executive Director James Flacke said his organization is able to assist buyers by using the NRP funds to leverage money from other public homebuyer assistance programs. 

“It allows us to use these monies to defer some of the special and extraordinary costs of renovating vacant homes in a city,” said Flacke. “It costs much more to renovate a vacant home in the city than it costs to build a new home in the suburbs.”

NRP is another tool designed to attract buyers in Schenectady. For the past six yeas, the city has partnered with local realtors, lenders, and community organization on the HOMES program.

NRP is also available in Buffalo, Rochester, Kingston and Orange County in the Mid-Hudson Valley, Rensselaer County, Long Island, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

Recently, the City of Albany completed a Vacant Building Inventory. According to the latest estimates, there are 1,044 vacant buildings out of about 30,000 city properties.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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