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Winter batters foreclosed Schenectady homes

Friday, February 22, 2013
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A piece of the roof fell off this vacant home at 1352 Albany St. that was foreclosed on by the city of Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
A piece of the roof fell off this vacant home at 1352 Albany St. that was foreclosed on by the city of Schenectady.

— Winter is taking a toll on the houses Schenectady seized through foreclosure last year. There’s so much damage that city workers can’t keep up with it all.

Wind has pulled shingles off roofs, leaving leaks to drip unnoticed inside vacant rooms.

Heavy snow has left cracked and broken sheds in its wake.

At one house, the siding is stripping off in chunks. It has lost about an eighth of its siding already, and a full-story swath is missing on one side, leaving the house frame vulnerable to the elements.

In one of the worst cases, part of a roof piece fell off the vacant house at 1352 Albany St., landing in a tree nearby. Electrical wires that had gone through that piece of the roof to the house are dangling in the air.

City Council members had worried last summer that the city might get stuck with expensive repairs if it held foreclosed houses over the winter. At the time, they hoped to quickly sell the houses.

But many were in serious disrepair and the city’s contractor-rehab program only just started this winter. Three houses have been handed over for renovations, leaving more than 200 to the elements.

Building Inspector Eric Shilling said his office is overwhelmed by the amount of repairs needed on those houses.

“We’re trying. We’re doing the best we can,” he said. “There’s no way we are going to be able to keep them up to pristine condition.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return a call seeking comment.

City workers did perform emergency repairs soon after the foreclosures last August. Shilling inspected all of the houses and ordered the necessary repairs. Then workers boarded up windows with special techniques and tamper resistant screws that appear to have kept vandals out.

But they only did emergency work, such as roof patches.

Some residents, who were cited for peeling paint on their properties, complained to Shilling recently because some of the foreclosed houses also had peeling paint.

“They said, ‘Are you going to cite yourself?’ No, because I can’t paint 300 houses. You can paint one,” Shilling said. “They moved in to a house they chose. We got these because we were dealt this hand.”

And he doesn’t have much help dealing with it.

This winter, he has just three property maintenance workers. The rest of the crew is made up of seasonal workers who are only hired for the summer.

He wishes he had them now.

“This is the first winter in our foreclosures. We can’t anticipate when to keep people on,” he said. “When they come on, we’ll start ramping things up.”

But for now, he has to triage. The house with the dangling wires got priority when it was reported Friday afternoon.

“Anything with this kind of concern we can get to,” he said, adding that the wires could be a serious danger.

“That may still be energized,” he said.

The utilities to the house were turned off months ago, but National Grid usually only cuts the power at the house, not at the pole, he said. That would leave the dangling wires live.

City workers will ask National Grid to cut power to those wires. Then they will remove the piece of roofing and make emergency repairs, he said.

He added that residents should not hesitate to call 911 or National Grid if they see similar situations elsewhere.

 
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