With an eye towards affordable housing, Land Bank to elicit investment plans for distressed Albany areas

The Albany County Land Bank has been slowly acquiring clustered properties in distressed Albany areas over the past few years and now they’re looking to craft ideas on how best to use them. To help the Land Bank make that determination they’re looking to hire a consultant. Executive Director Adam Zaranko presented the plan at the most recent Land Bank directors’ meeting, so I’ll hand off to him to introduce.

“One of the reasons we were created in our founding legislation — at both the State and local level — is to do exactly what we are proposing to do today. We’ve acquired about 1,000 properties since 2015, when we became active. We have put a lot of thought into creating assemblages, creating strategic clusters, and doing land-banking as intended by the practice. We’ve been deliberate and thoughtful on this because, obviously, we can’t land bank everything.

In the past couple months, we’ve seen interest from a whole spectrum of developers and buyers for the properties we’ve amassed, including in the South End. Part of [this is because it’s] springtime, part of it is that the market is still strong in Albany relative to other upstate cities, and [part of it is due to] the advent of Opportunity Zones. [That] a lot of our properties are in census tracts designated by the feds is certainly pique-ing the interest of people who have raised quite a bit of money. We want to make sure that we are in the driver’s seat on this because we’ve done all this work, and we don’t want some investment to come in without a community lens and deliberate thought. We see an opportunity to leverage the properties that we’ve acquired, harness this activity, and meaningfully dispose of this real estate in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved — the residents, the community, the developers, and the Land Bank.”

The Land Bank is focusing on three clusters for this initial project. The first is in the South End around Teunis and South Pearl streets, the second is along Clinton near Henry Johnson Boulevard, and the third is the former Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center at Ontario and West streets.

Cluster 1: South End

Zaranko showing the first set of clustered properties in the South End. Blue-lined parcels are Land Bank holdings. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

The South End set is clustered around Teunis Street with other properties scattered nearby. With this set in particular, Zaranko said the Land Bank is keeping an open mind about possible combinations with ACDA, other City-owned properties, vacant buildings, and severely tax-delinquent properties that are thus likely to end up in City/Land Bank’s hands.

Cluster 2: Clinton Ave and Henry Johnson Boulevard

Map slide of the cluster of properties around Clinton Avenue near the intersection with Henry Johnson Boulevard. This map was created last summer, so there are additional properties not shown. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

The second — and larger — set is around Henry Johnson Boulevard, Clinton Avenue, and First Street. The Land Bank is going to be looking for any project in this area to be a continuation of the nearby ongoing Home Leasing project. That Rochester-based developer is in the midst of rehabilitating a large set of (mostly) historic 19th century rowhouses into more than 200 units of affordable housing, primarily along Clinton Avenue.

This cluster was initially envisioned during the Land Bank’s Center for Community Progress scholarship program. Due to the I-90 Arbor Hill entrance, the Henry Johnson Boulevard/Clinton Avenue intersection gets about an average of 25,000-30,000 vehicle trips per day, which will be a factor in crafting a plan.

Cluster 3: Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center

The third set, in the Beverwyck neighborhood, is the former Center for Family and Youth/Project STRIVE Program Center at West and Ontario streets. This recently-acquired set includes 130 and 135 Ontario, and a gravel lot at 154 West Street. The area is about a block and a half from the set of rowhouses on Bradford Street that caught fire recently.

“The buildings are in very, very rough shape on the inside,” said Zaranko. “There’s a significant amount of mold and, despite being vacant for not too long relative to our portfolio, I don’t know if they could be salvaged except for the steel.”

Albany County Land Bank Executive Director Adam Zaranko gestures to the former Center for Family and Youth properties. The two buildings fronting on Ontario are 130 and 135. (Photo/Ian Benjamin)

The process of pulling together enticing development packages is beyond the Land Bank’s expertise, so they’re looking to hire a real estate planning consultant — ideally a local firm — to fill that need. “We know what we want to do, but we need to get the resources in to do it and we’re not pretending that we have this expertise or capacity in our shop,” said Zaranko.

No matter the consultant selected, the Land Bank will be looking for ideas that take advantage of their real estate abilities, that incorporate affordable housing in some fashion, and that align with neighborhood goals, such as those identified in the South End and West Hill community plans. Zaranko said that they would consider incentivizing some of those priorities “within reason”. The affordable housing aspect was emphasized by David Traynham, ACLB vice-chair, who noted that the Land Bank should take some steps to define “affordable” during the process, so that there’s provision of housing for those who are making minimum wage.

“This is exactly what land banks were set up to do, we have the property to do it, and we have the momentum so I strongly recommend that we dive into this and see where it takes us,” said Zaranko.

Other notes:

  • A substantial property tax payment was made on the Governors Motor Inn in Guilderland, which was acquired last year. The property had accrued a tax debt of more than $200,000, according to the Times-Union. While acquisition by the Land Bank halted the accumulation of more taxes, the Land Bank became liable for those already imposed. “We’re going to try to recover every dollar plus in the property sale,” said Executive Director Adam Zaranko.
  • Social media engagement has driven a lot of interest in the many workshops held by the Land Bank. These workshops are quite informative, so if you’re thinking about buying a property in Albany County (especially if it’s from the Land Bank) I highly recommend attending.
  • A demolition contract to WPNT Construction for a few buildings (including two on Elm) was approved. Board approval is required when such contracts are above $15,000.

Building sales

It’s spring, so there’s a lot of movement in the real estate world – and the Land Bank is no exception. Sale of 16 properties spread across five municipalities (6 buildings and 10 parcels) were approved.

Sales recommendations are the culmination of a lengthy process that begins with application, vetting, review, and then recommendations from the acquisition/disposition sub-committee. The Board then typically approves the recommendations made by the sub-committee. This list is based upon a recording of the meeting and may not be accurate. Spellings of last names that appear in quotes are best guess. For questions about sales, contact the Land Bank directly.

In Albany:

  • 369 First Street — Recommended sale of a vacant 19th century Italianate two-story rowhouse in West Hill to Dileep Rathor, who owns a small market at 16 Judson Street. Dileep also owns an adjacent rowhouse and would like to rehab both buildings for rental.
  • 316 Sheridan Ave — A very tiny house in Sheridan Hollow, just south of the Empowerment Center at 320 Sheridan Ave (the former St. Casimir Catholic Church). Board recommended sale to a Ms. Wilson, who would like to rehab and occupy as her primary residence.
  • 472 Second Ave (building and rear lot) – Recommended sale to a “Mr. Doredekis” and a “Mr. Matides”. Rear lot is shared by nearby property owners.

Sales outside Albany (and a recent acquisition in Bethlehem):

  • Cohoes
    • 424R Columbia Street (lot) – Recommended sale of a landlocked vacant parcel to a Mr. and Mrs. Marra, whose parents own an adjacent property that provides access.
  • Bethlehem
  • Watervliet
    • 1219 7th Ave (building) – Residential building to be sold to a “Mr Irwin”, who has proposed rehab and resell. This is subject to the ACLB’s “flip” policy, which requires the subsequent buyer to also go through the Land Bank’s vetting process.
    • 500 13th St (building) – Small former convenience/drug store to a “Mr. LaGreche”, who would like to rehab the property and use it as his primary residence. He is employed at the nearby Watervliet Arsenal.
  • Colonie
    • 328 Consaul Road (lot) — a large open lot that the board recommended be sold to the Capital District Celtic Cultural Association, who would like to use it as recreation fields.
    • 77 Karner Road (lot) – Small strip of vacant land recommended for sale to “Momro Associates”, which owns the adjacent building used by the Capital District Center for Disability Services.
  • Rensselaerville
    • Edwards Hill Road (lot) – Recommended sale of a large lot to Mr. Mance, a Connecticut resident, who plans to build a “modular structure” on the property.

This meeting was held on May 21, 2019. The next ACLB directors’ meeting will be on Tuesday, June 18th at 5:30pm at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard (2nd floor, go in the door on the right).

About: The Albany County Land Bank Corporation was one of the first ten land banks created in New York following the passage of the NYS Land Bank Act in 2011. As such, it is a rather unique entity granted special real estate powers to be used for the Good Cause of facilitating the acquisition, improvement, and redistribution of tax-foreclosed, vacant or abandoned properties. They were initially funded with payouts from NYS Attorney General initiated litigation against Big Banks that engaged in the unscrupulous lending practices that led to the sub-prime mortgage crises, which was a major trigger of the Great Recession.

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