With a major downtown fire and a building’s near-collapse making headlines in recent days, Albany officials say local officials remain committed to rehabbing blighted blocks.
It seems like they're everywhere you go in the core sections of the city of Albany: those 2-by-2-foot red signs marked with an X attached to buildings warning first responders that the structures are unsafe. Officials hope to have most, if not all, rehabilitated eventually.
Among the latest to be marked, three former downtown businesses buildings at the E-Comm complex — owned by the state-run Albany Convention Center Authority. They’re the exception. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says a majority of city properties that are in decline are privately-owned: "There are legal restraints with respect to how far we could go in forcing an owner to certain things with their property. That's something that we are really looking at improving because we now have a few more tools in the toolbox, so to speak. One of those tools is the land bank. So the Albany County Land Bank now owns, I think, roughly 600-plus properties, and they announced today that they have closed on their 100th property, so that's 100 properties that have been sold and are either rehabilitated or in the process of being rehabilitated."
Albany County Land Bank Executive Director Adam Zaranko: "We're really proud to be leading the fight against blight and ensuring that we have an open, consistent, rigorous, inclusive and equitable process in our sales and create more opportunities through our real estate that aren't always available to be people through typical real estate transactions."
Sheehan adds the city is working with new legislation the state Attorney General's office was successful in passing regarding "zombie properties" — buildings owned by banks that sit empty. The goal is to get housing stock back into the hands of the people. "The third thing that we did is we received grant funding to fund a position for an individual whose sole responsibility is to look at each and every vacant property in the city of Albany and determine a plan for that property. Some of those properties, for example, are owned by the Land Bank and the Land Bank is managing those properties. But there are many of them that are either in the hands of banks, or in the hands of absentee owners, and we have to ensure that we have a plan for each of those properties, so, we now have a resource in the city. Before it was a lot of different people's jobs. Now we have one person whose job it is to focus on these vacant properties."
Zaranko says to date the Land Bank has invested more than $2.5 million into improving properties and incentivized an additional $4.5 million of private investment. "We're growing very quickly. We're currently the second-largest land bank in New York state out of all New York state land banks in terms of real estate acquired. Going forward this year, we hope to better leverage our real estate holdings, to create more meaningful developments, especially in neighborhoods that could use some more investment. So we'll be doing more strategic planning, more efforts to reach out to people for development opportunities, but we'll always continue to keep our eye on the ball with returning properties to people, first-time home buyer opportunities and selling properties to people from the community that they live in."
The Land Bank says it has enabled the return of more than 200 vacant and abandoned properties through pending and closed sales, which will allow millions of dollars of assessed value to return to Albany County’s tax rolls.