TU Editorial on Alexander Street

A resurgence in the South End

April 28, 2011 at 6:01 am by Jim McGrath

From today’s editorials: Habitat for Humanity plans to build 16 houses in a decaying neighborhood. Projects of such a scale can help literally transform cities.

It’s easy enough to pinpoint the worst of times in Albany’s South End. The long decline of the infrastructure of a once stable neighborhood hit its nadir in September 2007, when a family was flooded out of the house on Alexander Street where it had lived for 38 years.

That’s what happens when adjacent buildings are allowed to rot into utter disrepair. Five buildings had to be razed to get that debacle under control. A third of the block between Clinton and Elizabeth streets was left vacant, one more glaring reminder of an epidemic of abandoned buildings and empty, unattended lots across Albany.

The city should ponder that now, as it embraces the bold intentions of Habitat for Humanity to transform the neighborhood. Sixteen two-story row houses will be going up on Alexander Street and around the corner on Delaware Street, if all goes according to plan.

That far exceeds anything Habitat for Humanity has done in its 22 years in Albany. The more typical projects were one or two units at a time, in some 49 houses in all. That would have been enough to save a few families — the Lawsons, for example, who were left temporarily homeless almost four years ago. Build enough houses, and save enough families, though, and you’ve succeeded in rescuing a city.

Listen to Mayor Jerry Jennings:

“We want to do the right thing and we want people to live in homes that they can be proud of,” Mr. Jennings was saying on Tuesday.

The mayor gets it. He’s heeded the warning of his own Recapitalize Albany commission, in a report published not long before disaster struck in 2007.

“One of the most important new strategic directions is for the city to more quickly establish control of vacant and abandoned sites,” the report said. “This is key to reversing disinvestment in Albany because rundown properties lower property values for neighbors, attract criminal activity, pose a physical threat to the community and discourage private investment.”

More home ownership, made available by Habitat for Humanity to low-income families that might not otherwise ever obtain such a common American aspiration, is the next logical step.

“You cannot bring about broad-based economic revitalization … if you just build rentals upon rentals upon rentals,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of Capital District Habitat for Humanity.

Imagine the South End’s revival led by homeowners. Think of what could become of a vast neighborhood where there are no real barriers separating it from the more appealing parts of the city. It’s time to bury the worst of the past.

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