CARS HOMES JOBS

Former Schenectady health center eyed for new apartments

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
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— The nonprofit group that rebuilt 20 houses in Vale is back, this time to work on housing in Hamilton Hill.

Community Builders wants to turn the former Schenectady Family Health Center into a 30-unit apartment building for seniors and veterans.

The Craig Street building has been empty since 2005, when the agency became known as Hometown Health and moved to a new building on State Street.

Metroplex Development Authority has shown the vacant building to many prospective buyers, but no one bought it. Now, Hometown Health is willing to sell the building at a steep discount to support the new plan.

“We are going to sell it to them at, I think you would call it, a very fair price,” said Hometown Health CEO Joe Gambino. The price of conversion would be significant though, and the project would depend on state and federal funding.

Better Neighborhoods Inc. would also move its offices to the building, and BNI officials are working with Community Builders on the plan.

Community Builders has also forged partnerships with Carver Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club in hopes of expanding the project in the future. If the Boys and Girls Club moves from its Craig Street location, Community Builders could turn that site into another apartment building, while possibly hosting Carver Community Center.

“We would love to do more than a single building,” said Sue McCann, New York director of development for Community Builders. “It’s best for the sustainability of the project and it’s best for transforming the neighborhood. There’s a lot of vacant buildings and lots there.”

But Community Builders projects are expensive. In Vale, where the agency rebuilt whole houses, each house cost about $230,000. McCann said that the cost was justified — houses were gutted to the framework. But the money poured into each house was about five times the typical selling price for Vale homes. The selling price didn’t necessarily matter: Community Builders houses are rented to tenants. But some questioned whether it was a good use of state funds.

McCann said she wanted Community Builders to do more homes there — but the cost was too high.

“It really comes down to the funding,” she said. “We definitely stemmed the tide but we want to do more. That’s why we’re back now.”

She pointed to Census figures showing higher incomes in Vale now as proof of the value of good housing. Incomes in that neighborhood rose from $28,000 to $32,000 on average from 1999 to 2010, while Hamilton Hill incomes stayed the same.

For Hometown Health, the proposal comes as a relief. Finally, the agency may have a buyer for its long-empty building.

“The truth is, the building was not being used by us,” Gambino said. “And this was an opportunity to bring something positive to that area.”

He’s excited about the possibilities.

“I think it’s great. It would be nice to get good housing in there. It really is an opportunity to revitalize that area of the Hill,” he said.

The building is appropriately zoned for housing, according to Zoning Officer Steven Strichman, so there are no major hurdles beyond the funding.

Community Builders submitted an application last week to New York state for $2.4 million from the Housing Trust Fund and $6.1 million in federal low-income housing tax credits.

Tenants would be limited to incomes of 60 percent of the median for the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area, but that works out to be above the average for Schenectady. Tenants could earn up to $32,640 singly or $37,320 as a couple.

The state will announce funding decisions in March.

 
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