Land Bank and Habitat revive zombie property

A new Schenectady police officer will soon move into a newly renovated home, thanks to a partnership between the Capital Region Land Bank and Habitat for Humanity. The home, at 906 Pennsylvania Ave., was sold to Andre Alert, a new recruit in the Schenectady police department.

It was previously vacant and abandoned by the previous owner, labeled a “zombie property” that was foreclosed upon by Bank of America, according to David Hogenkamp, project director for the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority. Metroplex administers the land bank program in Schenectady County.

Alert offered $111,000 for the home, which was listed by the Land Bank for $130,000.(According to a recent housing sales report from the Greater Capital Region Association of Realtors, the percentage of homes sold in Schenectady County last month was up by 3 percent f rom February of 2017, but the median sale price was down by 4 percent, at $158,479.) | Andrew Beam | @beam_gazette  |

Alert’s offer was accepted Tuesday, according to Hogenkamp. It did include a $6,000 sellers concession, meaning the land bank actually received $105,000 for the property.

“It just helps his mortgage,” Hogenkamp said of the concession.

Hogenkamp said the Land Bank showed the property to six prospective buyers, and Alert’s offer was the first they received. Hogenkamp said the sale fits with the Land Bank’s mission: To get abandoned homes back on the tax rolls and in the hands of responsible owners.

“When we own it, we don’t pay taxes on the property,” Hogenkamp said. “When he owns it, he pays those taxes.”
It was a first-time renovation project for the Land Bank and Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County Inc., according to Hogenkamp.

The National Community Stabilization Trust, a non-profit based in Washington D.C. that acts as a broker between banks and organizations like the Land Bank, acquired the home and donated it for $1 to the Land Bank.

Hogenkamp said the property was a casualty of the 2007 mortgage crisis; it had broken windows, an incomplete kitchen and a basement full of trash. He said it seemed there were some renovations started by the previous owner before the foreclosure.

“When [homes] sit vacant for so long, things start cracking, and they need to be fixed,” Hogenkamp said. “When a home gets foreclosed on, you just stop caring about it.”

The Land Bank chose to partner with Habitat for Humanity in order to stretch the $30,000 grant it received from the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national grant program based in New York City.

Madelyn Thorne, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, said the project was out of the norm for the organization, which usually enlists volunteers to build new homes from scratch for low-income, first-time homebuyers.

“It was an opportunity for us to do another initiative, which is neighborhood revitalization,” Thorne said. “Although homeownership is the crux of what we do, we asked, ‘How else can we be an effective positive force in communities?’”

Thorne said Habitat’s construction manager, James Gakakis, and Dick Baertsch, the volunteer who oversaw other volunteers for the project, were excited to work on the home, and there were a lot of ideas floated about how to revive the structure.

“It was like HGTV in here,” Hogenkamp said.

Thorne said many of the volunteers work at General Electric’s Research and Development Center.

“So, they know how to make things work and how to be really creative,” Thorne said.
One example was bringing the washer and dryer up from the basement, which had low ceilings, to one of the bedrooms on the first floor.

Hogenkamp said they then built a closet in that room to store the laundry machines.

They also created a storage area on the back deck, which was itself completely rebuilt. Before that, Hogenkamp said, there was no storage space in the home.

“We want the home to be in a condition where someone doesn’t have to come in and do a renovation project,” Hogenkamp said.

The purpose of such projects is to sell the home to someone who plans to live there, not to someone who plans to rent it out. That leads to the homeowner actually taking care of the home, Hogenkamp said.

“The neighborhood becomes safer when you have owner-occupied housing,” added Thorne. “It’s more stable, and you don’t have people coming and going.”

Richard Ruzzo, a county legislator and chair of the Capital Region Land Bank, praised the collaboration between Habitat and the Land Bank.

“These are the partnerships that continue to revitalize and strengthen our neighborhoods,” he said.

Hogenkamp said the Land Bank will put the sale price of the home toward other projects in the Mont Pleasant area. (Because the home was donated to the Land Bank, and with the grant from Local Initiatives Support Corp. paying for the work, the Land Bank was able to pocket $105,000.)

Hogenkamp also said the project furthered the Land Bank’s efforts to revitalize the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. The organization previously demolished 12 homes in the neighborhood, with one of them being the former Chubby’s convenience store. That was taken down to make way for the new $2 million Mont Pleasant branch of the Schenectady County Public Library.

The Land Bank and Habitat for Humanity will collaborate next on a home at 115 Prospect St.

“We’re committed to working with Habitat moving forward,” Hogenkamp said.

Thorne said future projects are something her organization is looking forward to as well, especially in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, where Habitat is building two new homes on Davis Terrace. The organization previously built a home just down the street from the one at 906 Pennsylvania Ave., as well.

“It’s Habitat collaborating in a new way to help the community get better,” Thorne said.