Where there once was blight: hope

Albany looks to replace demolished homes with low-income housing

TIM O'BRIEN Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B4

Date: Saturday, September 15, 2007

ALBANY - With six homes demolished on Alexander Street, the mayor said the city would like to move quickly to get new housing in their place.

But how fast that work can begin will depend on the five owners who let their properties slide and are being billed for the demolition. "I'd like to see some replacement housing there," Mayor Jerry Jennings said Friday. "We've had some preliminary discussions with Habitat for Humanity."

The city ordered the buildings demolished as an imminent danger on Wednesday, a day after the home of Rebecca and Richard Lawson Jr. at 45 Alexander St. was flooded. Fire Chief Robert Forezzi said the water that deluged their home came from the vacant building next door at 43 Alexander St.

City officials had hoped to save the Lawsons' home but determined the damage from the adjacent demolitions was too severe. The Lawsons said they hoped to rebuild in the neighborhood.

Jennings said he hopes the city can come to an agreement with all the property owners to get new housing built quickly.

Vernesia Mendoza of Queens said she will listen to offers on her property at 43 Alexander St. Because she said she cannot afford to pay for the demolition - Forezzi put the average cost at $18,000 - she hopes for an agreement to sell the land to the city. Mendoza said she spoke to the city engineer on the scene on Thursday and was awaiting a letter detailing why her property was razed.

One of the properties is owned by St. John's Church of God in Christ. The Rev. McKinley Johnson said the building at 49 Alexander St. was left to the church by its deceased founder and church leaders hoped to renovate it for transitional housing.

"What we always wanted is some kind of way to help the neighborhood. Our problem was we weren't able to do the repairs because the roof caved in. Hopefully, they'll put some new housing there for the low-income people," he said. "There is no question these houses needed to come down. They got to it before we did."

He too hopes for an agreement to sell the land rather than pay for the demolition.

Last October, a city report doc umenting every vacant building found 954 of them. Twenty were on Alexander Street. Four of the five buildings demolished this week were listed as candidates for rehabilitation. Only 51 Alexander St. was considered "extremely expensive to repair."

Jennings said he has been working on proposals to address blight. Some South End residents had questioned how the city could let such properties deteriorate for so long.

"It's an issue all over," said Jennings, who noted a New York Times article this week on Buffalo's plans to spend $100 million over five years to demolish 5,000 vacant houses.

Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com.