Volunteers key to completion of first city land bank project

After sixteen months of work by a combination of volunteers and paid contractors, the very first project taken on by the Capital Region Land Bank in the City of Amsterdam is ready for sale. Located on Julia Street, the renovated home had its first open house on Sunday, hosted by Copper Cove Realty.

Bob Purtell, of Century 21 Purtell Realty, who is a member of the Amsterdam Land Bank Advisory Board, and serves as a Montgomery County Legislator, said Sunday that nearly all of the interior of the house has been worked on. Improvements include: a remodeled kitchen and bathroom, new windows, interior and exterior doors, a new water line and electric service, new shrubbery, driveway blacktop, sheet rock and concrete floor in the garage, carpeting, lighting and hardwood floors.

Purtell said the total amount invested in the home totals approximately $50,000. The listing price of the home is advertised at $94,000. However, Purtell said the cost would have been much more if it weren’t for the efforts of volunteers who helped clean out the home at the beginning of the project, as well as donated their time to help with the renovations.

“We couldn’t have done this without volunteers,” said Purtell. “Very little of this was paid to contractors. Bob DiCaprio and his crew put a lot of effort into this. District 9 painter’s union came in and spent an awful lot of time working with us.”

According to Purtell, the strategy of the land bank is to target vacant homes in neighborhoods that are otherwise in good shape, and therefore may not qualify for large block grants available for harder hit areas. Purtell said that investing a relatively small amount of money in a house like the one on Julia street helps to stabilize the neighborhood and prevent the spread of blight.

As a non-profit organization, the land bank aims to acquire foreclosed homes, rehabilitate them, and then sell them, putting them back on the tax rolls. The organization will then use the proceeds to rehabilitate more properties.

Initial funding for the land bank came in part from the City of Amsterdam. The Amsterdam Common Council approved a $15,000 payment to the land bank in February 2014 with the intent to issue three more additional payments of the same amount. Later, in October 2014, the Capital Region Land Bank received a $3 million grant from the NY State Attorney General’s Office, out of which a $570,000 portion was allocated to Amsterdam projects.

With that money, Purtell said that the land bank is planning to demolish two properties to create a new park on the corner of Pine Street and Division Street, working with the Amsterdam Housing Authority to rehabilitate a six family home on Guy Park to create housing for veterans, and well as work on two additional properties which have yet to be decided on. The land bank also has homes on Brookside Avenue and Ellsworth Street on their target list.

In order to keep the momentum of the land bank going, Purtell said that involvement of the local governments, as well as continued volunteer efforts will be required.

“Local governments have to buy into it and have to participate in it. And they can’t just stop here. It has to continue. The $570,000 from the Attorney General is just going to go so far,” said Purtell.

Overall, Purtell said his involvement with the project has been gratifying as well as a learning experience.

“It’s been a great project, and we’re glad to be getting toward the end of it,” he said.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.