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Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Residents of the Amsterdam's 4th Ward look through before and after photos of an area improved by federal grant funding in the city as Urban Renewal Agency Director Nick Zabawsky, at computer, explains the work.

Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam Urban Renewal Agency Director Nick Zabawsky explains the target area Tuesday for a Community Development Block Grant aimed at improving homes in the city's 4th Ward.

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Fighting the blight: Details of Amsterdam's federal grant outlined

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - Updated: 5:30 PM

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

About 15 residents of Amsterdam's 4th Ward gathered in the basement of St. Stanislaus Church on Reid Street Tuesday night to learn more about the Community Development Block Grant that the city was awarded earlier this month.

Amsterdam's Urban Renewal Agency Director Nick Zabawsky ran the meeting, with 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane chiming in every now and then.

"The purpose of the grant is to address unsafe housing," Zabawsky said.

The $400,000 grant program includes the rehabilitation of homes in the area bordered by Church, Reid, James and Hibbard streets.

Both owner-occupied and tenant-occupied residences qualify, but are subject to HUD income requirements.

The program provides grants of up to $25,000 per dwelling to rehab income-qualified, owner-occupied homes, and provides $12,500 per unit for owners of rental property.

Zabawsky explained that the tenants in those rental properties are the ones that must be income-qualified, and the owners of the properties must match the grant funds.

"The grant has to be for legitimate home improvements," Zabawsky said, including a plethora of work like window replacements, plumbing, roof work, and upgrading the electric system, among other work. "We look at a house and come up with a list of things that need to be done."

And a big part of the program deals with getting lead dust levels -- which most of the older homes have, he said -- down below the federal limit.

The work will not eliminate the lead levels, but significantly bring them down so they are less hazardous to occupants.

He also explained that the program isn't about "making a profit."

Residents may not improve the home and then sell.

If they do within five years, he warned, they must pay half of the grant back.

If the home is sold within one year, the entire grant must be paid back for that home.

Thane chimed in to say that the program may encourage owners of rental properties to revamp them.

"If a person purchases property with the intention of rehabbing it, this just sweetens the pot," she said.

One owner of a rental property there taking notes and asking questions was Erin Covey, who said she owns a single-family home on Hibbard Street that she and her family have been considering rehabilitating.

"I think that any sort of program that allows the homeowners and landlords to upgrade the property to make neighborhoods look better is a win-win situation," Covey said.

She said that during the previous CDBG program that revamped homes in the Division Street area, she purposely drove by throughout the rehab period to watch the progress.

"We were watching the work that was going on, and what a difference," she said. "It really helped the neighborhood."

At the end of the meeting, Zabawsky showed the residents before and after photos of the Division Street area homes that had been rehabbed.

Linda Marshall said she hopes to put in new energy efficient windows in the four-family James Street home that she owns in the target area.

"I grew up there and ... it's sad to see how it's deteriorated," she said.

She knows she will apply, knowing that she will qualify for it.

After the meeting, Zabawsky said was pleased to see so many residents interested in learning about the program, coming out on a dreary night.

He's already received a number of inquiries for applications for the grant program, though many did happen to be outside of the area, he said.

"This program won't start until probably March or April, so the first house it's going to be a two-to three month wait," he said. "The last house on the list, it could be a year."

The program must be completed in two years, he said.

Even Amsterdam residents who didn't live in the target area attended the information meeting just to hear more about the city program, asking questions and offering feedback.

"It's the right step," said Christine Andrzejewski, who lives outside of the target area. "I've never seen them that bad before and it's only deteriorating, so if there's something they can do to rehabilitate it, it's a good step forward."

     

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