This state has a “Legacy Cities” revitalization initiative to reuse blighted buildings as affordable housing, not just demolish them

As readers of the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity know, too many cities, states and provinces base their revitalization initiatives on demolition, rather than reuse of existing structures.

Even worse, many lack any semblance of a strategic renewal process to help ensure that the newly-vacant sites actually get redevelopment. It’s the same sort of “destroy it and they will come” philosophy that drive the disastrous urban planning fad of the 50’s and 60’s: “urban renewal”.

But on May 27, 2021, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the new $25 million Legacy Cities initiative, a targeted effort to eradicate vacant properties in concentrated neighborhoods across Upstate New York and transform blighted structures into newly renovated, move-in ready homes. Sometimes, demolition is needed, of course, but this program makes reuse the default, as it should be.

The renovated homes will help expand affordable homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents, specifically first-time buyers and households of color.

By working to eliminate vacant properties in cities throughout the State, we can facilitate and expand the revitalization efforts currently underway in many underserved neighborhoods, especially those previously impacted by the foreclosure crisis,” Governor Cuomo said.

This new program will help increase property values for current homeowners, improve the quality of life in neighborhoods, and reduce the strain on municipal resources, including fire and police, by decreasing the health and safety risks associated with blighted buildings. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is critical that we continue to make targeted investments like these in order to stabilize our communities and increase affordable housing for New Yorkers,” he added.

Under the new initiative, New York State Homes and Community Renewal will allocate up to $25 million in state subsidies through an application process open to land banks that are active in upstate cities and are working in partnership with small, local developers.

HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “Governor Cuomo understands that dilapidated properties and blight in our communities threaten to undo the investments made by both public agencies and private investors, decreasing property values and tax bases critical for ongoing development of cities throughout New York. Through targeted interventions such as these, we can strengthen our ongoing revitalization efforts while also pursuing our goal to increase minority homeownership rates across the state. We look forward to working with our partners in local government and the development community to producing new housing opportunities while also improving neighborhoods for current residents.

The program will also leverage millions of dollars in private construction financing. Initially, the program will target projects that are located in an upstate community served by a New York State Land Bank in several regions, including the Capital Region, Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, and Western New York.

Community Preservation Corporation President and CEO Rafael E. Cestero said, “The Community Preservation Corporation is proud to partner with the State to provide new opportunities for M/WBEs to grow their businesses while also bringing new housing, jobs and investment to underserved communities. Importantly, Legacy Cities also provides a preference for first-time purchasers of color, helping to tackle the racial homeownership gap and the issues of building generational equity and wealth through homeownership. Our thanks to Governor Cuomo and HCR Commissioner Visnauskas for their partnership and dedication to establishing this landmark program.

The program is a partnership between HCR and the Community Preservation Corporation, a non-for-profit community development financial institution that focuses on the preservation and creation of affordable and multifamily workforce housing across New York. CPC will provide funding for the program through its ACCESS initiative which was launched in 2020 to provide capital and pre-development support to developers and real estate entrepreneurs of color, and which targets high-quality housing projects in underserved communities.

Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, Chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, said, “Legacy Cities will help revitalize blighted properties, stabilize communities, and provide long dreamed-of homeownership opportunities for first-home homebuyers, especially minority households, who never thought they would be able to purchase a home and build equity for the future. As we continue to look for innovative ways to create more affordable housing units across our State, I am hopeful that this program will serve as a model of a public-private partnership that will provide new opportunities for local minority- and women-owned developers and reap long-term benefits for our deserving families and communities.”

Selected land banks will transfer assemblages of up to 10 single-family properties to local developers, with preference going to developers that are minority- and women-owned businesses. CPC will provide construction financing and each project will be eligible to receive up to $75,000 per unit in HCR subsidy, with the potential for $95,000 per unit if specific energy efficiency improvements are included in the project scope. Once completed, each property will be resold to first-time homebuyers, with priority given to households of color and to families who earn less than 80 percent of area median income.

Senator Jeremy Cooney said, “Investing in the revitalization of Upstate Cities is a crucial next step in the recovery from COVID19. This legislation will support our housing insecure, create new jobs, and be a boost to the local economy. Cities like Rochester will benefit from the long term impact of this program which will help our underserved communities thrive.

Applicants will also be required to work with community-based housing counseling agencies to connect residents to HCR’s “Give Us Credit” program–a statewide initiative that uses alternative credit analysis to increase homeownership for applicants who have been underserved in the homeownership market, particularly applicants of color. HCR will offer these potential homebuyers down payment assistance to cover acquisition and closing costs.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “This is a perfect opportunity to eliminate blight, stabilize neighborhoods, and increase minority homeownership through SONYMA’s “Give Us Credit” Program. Buffalo’s Eastside Corridor Initiative created a successful Minority Developer & Real Estate Program, which can provide hands-on experience for new developers to provide renovated homes for new homeowners. This is a win-win for new homeowners, communities, and upstart developers of color. I applaud Governor Cuomo, New York Homes &Community Renewal, and Community Preservation Corporation for creating the Legacy Cities Initiative.

Program applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and the application window will remain open until the program funds have been committed.

Photo (by Storm Cunningham) shows old warehouses in Detroit that have been converted to residential use.

Learn more about the Legacy Cities initiative on the HCR website.

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