NEW TOWN HOUSES REFLECT NEW THINKING

LYDIA POLGREEN Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: D1

Date: Sunday, November 25, 2001

Correction: ***** CORRECTION PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 27, 2001 *****A story Sunday failed to fully explain the Albany Housing Authority's $57 million Hope VI project in North Albany. The $57 million figure covers construction of 160 new town houses -- which cost $20 million to build, including $2 million to demolish the old Corning Homes complex -- as well as $37 million to pay for construction of 200 apartments elsewhere in the city and social service programs for Housing Authority tenants.

When the Edwin Corning Homes were built 50 years ago, the barracks-like rows of apartments were only meant to last a few years as affordable, temporary housing for thousands of soldiers after they returned from World War II. But the 294 cinder-block apartments became fixtures on the North Albany hillside above Pearl Street, housing families who could not afford to live anywhere else.


Over the years the units deteriorated, and in 1997 a blaze ripped through one of the buildings, killing a 32-year-old woman and her 3-year-old daughter.


Today, the hillside above Pearl Street is a very different place.


The crowded rows of apartments are gone. In their place are spacious, one- and two-story town houses with white-fenced porches, Dutch-style pitched roofs and little green mailboxes at the end of short driveways.


The complex is no longer called Corning Homes. In fact, it has no name, which is just how the Albany Housing Authority wanted it.


``We didn't want to stigmatize the development by calling it Corning Homes or anything else,'' said Orville Abrahams, the site manager for the public housing development. ``We just want it to be part of the North Albany neighborhood.''


The new development represents a national shift in thinking about public housing for low-income people. In the 1950s and 1960s, the trend was toward concentrating large numbers of poor people in small, densely populated areas.


With such crowded conditions fostering crime and other social problems, planners in recent years have shifted to more sparsely populated developments designed to better blend into the surrounding neighborhood and become part of the fabric of community.


Today, the old complexes are being razed and replaced, thanks in large part to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program known as Hope VI. It paid for much of the $57 million it took to tear down and rebuild the Corning Homes site.


``Hope VI allows us to take outdated and inappropriate housing and replace it with new housing,'' said Darren Scott, the housing authority's Hope VI coordinator.


The new development will eventually have 160 town houses, each with one to four bedrooms. Eighteen homes were finished last month and have been leased to low-income working families.


Families moving into the new homes said they could not believe their town houses were part of a public housing project. With the 160 units replacing nearly 300 apartments in the Corning Homes, Daisy Flores said she felt fortunate to get one.


``It's like a dream come true because I always wanted to live in a house like this,'' said Flores, who was moving into one of the first 18 homes on Tubman Circle off Lawn Avenue. Flores, a 40-year-old college student and single mother to two teenage boys, had been living in a run-down North Pearl Street apartment while waiting to see if she would get one of the new units.


``This place has sprinklers and central air,'' she said, walking through the house for the first time since she got her new keys last week.


Flores said she worries about her old neighbors, some of whom won't get to live the new complex, and about the higher rent. She was paying slightly more than $400 a month for her old apartment; now she must pay $502 for the two-bedroom town house she will share with her sons.


``That's going to be the hard part,'' she said. ``I'm in school full time and I work part time, but we'll make it.''


The Housing Authority said people who lived in the old complex were the first ones asked to apply for homes in the new complex. But not everyone will be able to come back.


``We went through the list of former tenants and accepted some of them, and they will be sprinkled throughout the complex,'' Abrahams said. ``But we also want to draw tenants from elsewhere, from people who might not have thought of living in public housing before.''