Rebuild Albany Authority
February 15, 2010
Hon. Neil Breslin
New York State Senate
Hon. John McEneny
New York State Assembly
Hon. Ron Canestrari
New York State Assembly
The Albany Convention Center Authority (the "Authority") has been in existence for over four years. The Authority has accomplished some of its objectives, such as buying a portion of the land selected as the site for the convention center and having partial archaeological investigations undertaken. However, these successes are small in the whole scheme of things necessary for the construction of the convention center.
I am proposing that the State laws that were enacted to create the Authority either be amended or repealed, and a new authority be created to take its place. The new authority would be entitled the, "Rebuild Albany Authority (RAA)". The RAA would be charged with financing the rehabilitation of Albany's vacant and abandoned buildings. In addition, the RAA would also have a revolving loan fund that would provide the mortgages to those who would like to purchase and occupy the fixed-up houses.
The legislation I am proposing would require that the funds still remaining from the initial ($75 million) Empire State Development Corporation grant be transferred to the RAA. A portion of these funds, say 20%, would be set aside and dedicated to the revolving loan fund. The remaining monies would be used for the rehabilitation or, in some cases, demolition of Albany's vacant and abandoned residential buildings.
The RAA would have a goal of rehabilitating 50 residential dwellings a year. The contracts let by the RAA for this work would require that the minimum standards for Women and Minority Owned Business Enterprise participation be met or exceeded by the contractors. In addition, the contractors would be required to establish apprenticeship programs whereby young men and women living in high poverty census tracts would be given first preference to participate in the apprenticeship program.
The revolving loan fund would be used to provide mortgages to owner-occupants of the now habitable houses. In this way, the RAA will have a continuous stream on funds coming in so as to continue the rehabilitation process well into the future. There would be no income limitations on the owners, as a truly mixed-income neighborhood is necessary for the success of this program. The only restrictions for obtaining a RAA mortgage would be the requirement for owner-occupancy and a minimum time limit for living in the house, as is done in other government-backed loan programs.
The RAA would help to alleviate at least five major problems facing the City of Albany today - What to do with the 700 vacant and/or abandoned buildings that are a blight in our inner-city neighborhoods; How to revitalize our neglected neighborhoods; How to find good paying jobs and teach job skills to a segment of our population, mostly youth between the ages of 18 and 24, who see no hope for them in today's job market; How to keep our construction trade union members working for many years and on many projects, not just for a few months on a one-time project like the convention center; and How to reverse the trend of population loss and tax-base loss in Albany and encourage increased home ownership instead.
I can only see positive outcomes from this proposal. In addition to the RAA helping to alleviate the abovementioned problems facing Albany, the ancillary affects may be even more profound: more jobs for our young adults will help steer these young people from non-productive activities like drug dealing, resulting in a decrease in crime; the property values in our now depressed neighborhoods will increase, thus encouraging even more people to invest in Arbor Hill, West Hill and the South End, as these people will know that their investment will grow in value, not decrease in value (A perfect example: one of my constituents bought a house off of Second Avenue in 1987 for $70,000. The house is presently assessed by the city for $63,000. In fact, after the first reassessment in 1997, this house was assessed at $43,000. This is not the way to encourage private investment in our neighborhoods.); and, increased owner-occupancy will lead to stronger neighborhoods, and thus, a stronger, more economically stable city.
I also would like to call your attention to two articles in the February 14, 2010 edition of the Times Union: a column by Paul Bray entitled: "Forget about an Albany convention center" and a story by Chris Churchill in the Business section entitled, "Modest proposals". The coincidence that these two articles appeared on the same day is quite telling. Both the column and the story point out how small development projects are the way to go in order to bring residential living to downtown Albany.
Paul Bray writes about the need to scrap the convention center and to concentrate on smaller projects such as a complex of "residential, office, food store and retail development..." in the downtown area. Mr. Bray also cites my recommendation for a Rebuild Albany Authority to replace the present convention center authority as a better option than building a $220 million convention center. Meanwhile, in the "Modest proposals" story, subtitled, "Smaller residential projects hold promise for downtown", business writer Chris Churchill writes about the problems large-scale development proposals have had in getting off the ground in downtown Albany, while praising the success of small-scale residential development in downtown.
The key to revitalizing Albany's downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods where a majority of the vacant and abandoned buildings exist is to bring mixed-use residential development to downtown, while at the same time, rebuilding our inner-city neighborhoods through the Rebuild Albany Authority. As Mr. Churchill writes, "Yevoli [Albany's Commissioner of Development & Planning] and others see housing as a key component of a truly vibrant downtown." And, I would like to expand on that theme to state: Removing the blight from our inner-city neighborhoods and replacing the abandoned/vacant buildings with owner-occupied dwellings will create a truly vibrant capital city - a city we can all be proud of!
I look forward to working with you on this proposal or any alternative ideas you believe are necessary to solve Albany's vacant and abandoned building problem and the associated negative social and community difficulties caused by neighborhood blight.
Common Council Member - First Ward