Making Democracy Work

Housing/Municipal Housing Authority Tenant Committee Report

Housing

Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority Election December 2018

Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority Election

The Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority (SMHA) election for a tenant commissioner for the SMHA governing board was held successfully, due to the many League of Women Voters of Schenectady County volunteers who oversaw the election in collaboration with SMHA.

The League wants to thank and express its appreciation to its volunteers: Eleanor Aronstein, Carol Furman, Dave Furman, Joan Fucillo, Ann Hatke, Sharon Jordan, Helen MacDonald, Cheryl Nechamen, Jenny Overeynder, Inge-Lise Pangburn, Mary Pritchard, Roberta Roessle, Ellie Rowland, Cindy Weissend, and Joyce Whitson. These volunteers had to staff three polling sites during the eight hours that tenants could vote.

The League held a meeting with the volunteers on November 28 to discuss the conduct of the SMHA elections and ways to improve the election administration and participation of tenant-voters. Recommendations by the committee will be made to the SMHA executive director, Richard Homenick. Submitted by Joan Elliott and Dick Shave, coordinators for the SMHA election

Municipal Housing Authority Elections

A heartfelt thank you goes to League members who helped with the recent Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority (SMHA) Tenants' Council Election held at the Ten Eyck building in Schenectady. Those who participated during the eight hours when tenants voted, assuring a proper election and outcome, were: Dick Shave, Elmer Bertsch, Robbie Roessle, Eleanor Aronstein, Tara Peterson, Pat Lambert, Carol Furman, and Cindy Weissend.

League participation allowed the SMHA to document with a trusted outside source that the election was carried out properly. This is an example of grassroots democracy in action. The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County received $300 for its work.

Schenectady Sees New Direction to Improve Housing Efforts

Schenectady has developed a strategic plan to make resources go farther in meeting housing needs in the City, Jaclyn Mancini, Schenectady Director of Development, told the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County in a program May 6th at the Schenectady County Public Library.

Ms. Mancini, in charge of Schenectady's management and administration of housing, community development, neighborhood redevelopment and planning, said housing plans are "interactive" in a dozen places and aim to bring together efforts on the municipal, non-profit, and volunteer organization fronts. She cited as an example that the City's Land Bank effort would work with non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity and Better Neighborhoods Inc. when the City demolishes a substandard building and replaces it with a new dwelling. A demolished site also could result in "pocket parks" or green spaces. The City has designated four strategic corridors for housing renewal and development: Eastern Parkway; Broadway; North Side, and Mont Pleasant.

One of the audience expressed skepticism about the adequacy of planning for affordable housing. Richard Russo, Chair of the Land Bank, said Schenectady has an overstock of housing but acknowledged that housing that met standards was not necessarily available. The Municipal Housing Authority apartments and the Section 8 housing all have long waiting lists and little turnover. Schenectady has a policy that requires vetting of prospective buyers of City foreclosed houses, often two-family homes, because it does not want absentee or slum landlords with property that does not meet codes.

Individuals in the audience who deal with housing issues declared that Schenectady is seeing a "turnaround" in housing and that more people are moving in than moving out of the City.

Some discussion focused on landowners and banks that did not maintain property and the City's inability for years to force property maintenance. Ms. Mancini said some of the banks are beginning to either divest themselves of the property, for example paying the City to acquire a property, or doing more on maintenance. Part of the impetus, she said, is legislation nicknamed the "Zombie Bill" that would force banks after 90 days of bankruptcy or abandonment to move the property to a "for sale environment" or suffer penalties. The legislation that speakers urged the League to support is the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act.

Ms. Mancini described the H.O.M.E.S. "umbrella" program the City espouses as including: open market sales working with realtors and not-for-profit banks; Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs that also include federal block grant funding; first time homebuyer assistance programs (that include "gap" financing); redevelopment or demolition of distressed/abandoned buildings; Land Bank; and foreclosures and sale of City property. Some $1 million of property value has been recently put back on the tax rolls, according to Ms. Mancini.

Joan Elliott

Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act

Current status: Senate SO4781: in Judiciary Committee
Assembly AO6932: in Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee

Bill would:

Make lenders and banks responsible for delinquent properties soon after they are abandoned, rather than at the end of a lengthy foreclosure.
Require lenders to pay for upkeep.

Support: 16 mayors including those of Schenectady, Albany, and Amsterdam