How Albany is dealing with its 1K vacant buildings

New York capital uses tracking, code enforcement, lawsuits and land bank to grapple with 1K vacant buildings

Albany buildings
(Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

As New York grapples with a housing shortage, Albany is dealing with the nearly 1,000 vacant buildings, many of which have sat empty for years, the Albany Times Union reported.

The 974 vacant buildings — more than 800 of which were once homes — represent about 3 percent of the property in the city, the outlet said. But most of them are located in neighborhoods with many low-income and Black residents, their concentrations the result of redlining and discriminatory government and private policies from decades ago, the publication said.

“It is that history of unjust and racist history of housing, land use and financing policies that has resulted in the concentration of vacant properties in neighborhoods of color,” Tarik Abdelazim, of the National Technical Assistance for the Center for Community Progress, told the outlet. “We’re picking up the wreckage of decades.”

The city takes a multifaceted approach to tackle its vacant building problem, with the first step identifying and tracking vacant buildings, as well as having inspectors pay frequent visits to the properties. Rental properties are also frequently inspected to prevent blight, with the city working with property owners to encourage that violations are fixed, according to the outlet.

The city also has attorneys who work on code enforcement and to prosecute housing cases, the Times Union said.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Additionally, Albany is also clamping down — sometimes through legal actions — on banks that allow foreclosed properties to fall into disrepair.

The result is, since 2017, the number of vacant properties has fallen slightly, from about 1,050 vacant properties to about 975; it could cost more than $200 million to fix the remaining buildings, the outlet said, citing data from the Albany County Land Bank.

Addressing the problem often means having new owners take over the vacant properties, the Times Union said. Properties the city takes possession of through tax foreclosures are transferred to the land bank, which then focuses on selling them to local residents for redevelopment, or transferring them to nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity to have them refurbished.

Redevelopment, however, can be expensive, with developers needing government subsidies to help cover the costs of renovations and construction.

“People say. ‘Oh you’re going to pay that much to do a vacant building rehab?'” Adam Zaranko, executive director of the Land Bank, told the Times Union. “I say, ‘Yeah, but do you know how come it’s so much? Because no one invested in these communities at scale for generations and they actually purposefully disinvested. So you’re asking us to kind of make up for some of that.'”

— Ted Glanzer