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November 18, 2013

Housing plan a good start for city

The Daily Star

---- — For years now, our wish list for Center City Oneonta housing has been the same: More single-family homes; more affordable rentals; fewer vacant properties.

And for just as many years, it didn’t seem clear how the city government could make those things happen.

Enter the Oneonta Housing Task Force and Housing Vision Consultants.

Together, these two entities have developed a plan aimed at accomplishing two goals at once, turning vacant and dilapidated homes into low-income properties.

Housing Vision Consultants, a nonprofit organization, has a solid track record in this department, having conducted similar projects in nine cities, creating 1,036 affordable housing units and overseeing investments of more than $200 million.

The Oneonta project has a price tag of $15 million, which would include a mix of new construction and renovation to create a total of about 60 housing units.

When you consider that there are about 90 vacant homes in Oneonta, and that their number has been on the rise in recent years, it’s disappointing that the project would only involve buying between three and eight homes for renovation.

And the price tag does sound step when you do the math, which comes out to about $250,000 per housing unit.

The funds will come from a combination of sources, including a $400,000 state grant awarded through the Mohawk Valley Economic Development Council, and $300,000 owed to the city from the Bresee’s redevelopment project. Additional funding would come from private investments and state tax credits.

So, reading between the lines, an awful lot of this is public money, meaning yours and mine. And there will be people who have a problem with that, especially since it involves such a large sum of money.

But we find it beyond encouraging to see both the city and its partners step up with a solution to a problem that has been present for a long time now.

The fact is, it’s obvious by now that the free market was not going to correct itself to remedy this issue. 

Some of the vacant homes represent foreclosures, or properties in which the owners have simply walked away, leaving an often-unsuspecting bank holding the title.

Chip Holmes, Eighth Ward member of the Common Council and a financial adviser, told The Daily Star that, in such situations, banks don’t realize they own the properties, which are managed by servicing companies, and purchase offers are rejected.

And given the rents that some landlords are able to charge students on a per-semester basis, what free-market inducement could compel a landlord to rent to regular folks instead?

Neither the private sector nor the public sector always has all the answers. But in this instance, a government solution seems to be a good fit. We’re glad to see this project moving forward, and we applaud those who made it possible.