Albany leaders say the city is working hard to provide affordable housing to both owners and renters. Efforts to continue along that path are being supported by various agencies, including the Albany County Land Bank.
"We've seen a tremendous amount of investment in market rate housing in our downtown, in Park South, and in other areas of our city, and we're really proud of that growth and seeking to incentivize and encourage that type of growth," said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, telling lawmakers at the state capitol Monday about ongoing efforts to keep the city's housing stock marketable and attracting new homeowners, one of those being the County Land Bank, which was established in 2014 "to facilitate the process of acquiring, improving and redistributing vacant and abandoned properties."
"I announced in my state of the city this year that we have identified HUD funding that we are going to be using a million dollars of to encourage investment in vacant buildings in collaboration with the land bank so that we can layer that funding on top of funding that's available from our land bank and other sources in order to get vacant buildings back online," said Sheehan.
Executive Director Adam Zaranko says the Land Bank has been working with Americorps to act as a clearinghouse by presenting an inventory of programs to assist would-be buyers. "There's a whole bucket of first-time homebuyer programs through seven different organizations in and around the Capital Region. If you wanna become a landlord and do your first time investment property or become a landlord and maybe owner-occupied there's a whole 'nother suite of programs that’s available, and those go through different organizations like Affordable Housing Partnership, Albany Community Development Agency, SONYMAE, USDA has one for the outlying areas, so there's kind of an impressive wealth of supported programs that we're taking the lead to kind of put 'em all in one place, it's gonna help us help folks purchase our properties and put 'em back online."
The Land Bank primarily addresses tax foreclosed properties. Its hands are tied when it comes to so-called "Zombie" properties where the owner has skipped out on the mortgage holder, usually a bank, that pays the property taxes and does minimal maintenance while the building sits vacant.
Housing Services Counselor Virginia Rawlins matches potential buyers with available property. "If they have identified themselves as a first-time homebuyer I identify programs that match their needs so they will be able to purchase our properties. Same for if they wanna be owner occupied or even use our property as a rental property. Combating the problem of vacant and abandoned houses in Albany County and the city of Albany is very important to the role of the land bank. As we grow as an organization, we'll be very useful, hopefully in revitalizing neighborhoods in Albany."
In less than three years of operation, Albany County Land Bank says it has acquired more than 350 vacant and abandoned properties, made more than 120 property improvements and enabled more than 70 properties to return to productive use throughout Albany County. The Land Bank says it has invested more than $2 million into stabilizing neighborhoods, incentivized an additional $2 million in private investment and enabled the return of more than $1 million of assessed value back to the tax rolls.