Debate on the financing of the transformation of the former school of Schenectady

SCHENECTADY – A critical part of the financing of a rehabilitation project for an old school building put on hold in Schenectady is in danger.

The developers are asking city council to change its annual plan guiding how federal dollars are spent to reallocate $ 236,000 to help convert the former Elmer Avenue Elementary School into a 51-unit apartment building.

But critics say the money would be better used to help struggling homeowners.

“The money should stay allocated to homeowners because walking through town there are so many homeowners who are struggling with their homes right now,” said Deborah Rembert, president of the Schenectady Tenants Association. “A lot of people have lost their jobs.

Schenectady NAACP also expressed concerns about the reallocation of funding for the $ 21 million project dubbed “Elmer Gardens.”

Yet the developers, Better Community Neighborhoods, Inc. (BCNI), argue that it is a misconception that the funds are taken from existing programming, but rather is money that was originally allocated to one of the two now defunct nonprofits integrated into BCNI, which was formed last year to better leverage funding and provide a similar kind of muscle to that of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.

The initial allocation was $ 263,000 to rehabilitate a two-unit duplex.

“It was initially allocated to create additional rental housing in Schenectady with city-owned properties that have been foreclosed,” said Jennica Huff, CEO of BCNI.

City council is due to vote on the reallocation of the $ 236,000 Monday night. The motion was narrowly rejected by the city council’s planning and development committee last week, with City Councilor Marion Porterfield voting against, citing the displeasure of lawmakers moving forward despite two days remaining open in the period of public comments required.

“In the past, we have received several complaints about public passage while the public comment period is still open,” Porterfield said. “So I don’t think it’s a good idea to do that at this point. ”

City Councilor Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas said lawmakers still have a mechanism to seek public comment before withdrawing the motion from the committee.

“The overwhelming response has been very positive from the community,” said Zalewski-Wildzunas.

Elmer Avenue Elementary School was originally built in 1905 and closed in 2018. Voters approved the sale of the property the following year.

Grants to rehabilitate historic structures are extremely competitive, Huff said.

For every dollar of public funding, developers will be able to leverage $ 100 of private sector funding, she said.

BCNI, which has partnered with Home Leasing as part of this effort, will seek additional funding from the State Historic Preservation Office and the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

“There is a lot of momentum behind this development so far,” Huff said. “The state is interested, so this money would demonstrate to the state that the city – the locality – is committed to development. “

Home Leasing echoed the competitiveness of obtaining grants.

“Having these funds as part of the project reduces our demand for state subsidy,” said Adam Driscoll, development manager at Home Leasing.

Helping struggling homeowners is one of BCNI’s key priorities, said Huff, citing their continued efforts to raise funding for 20 opportunities to help first-time homebuyers, a coveted demographic in the city’s efforts. to combat the scourge by quickly returning city-owned properties to the tax rolls following foreclosure.

BCNI also runs many programs to help homeowners with repairs, Huff said.

Schenectady United Neighborhoods and Metroplex support the proposal.

“I think it’s great to always get public input,” Metroplex chairman Ray Gillen told lawmakers. “But voters in this city overwhelmingly approved the sale of Elmer Avenue School.”

Metroplex has worked with many developers to turn old schools into housing complexes, he said, including two buildings on Craig Street in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood, as well as the former St. Mary’s on Irving Avenue nearby.

“It’s really about making the strongest possible offer to the state to get the funding we need to save the school,” said Gillen.

Porterfield said she was not against the project.

“It’s about moving the funding from point A to point B,” Porterfield said.

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