Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Troy non-profit tackling troubled neighborhoods

News 10 also picked up our story. Check out the excellent video clip of the interview with Executive Director Patrick Madden
Video: TRIP helping to rebuild Troy

TROY, N.Y.-It's not obvious, but Fifth Avenue in Troy is once again in the middle of a rehabilitation project.

"The interesting thing is, one building can ruin a block. When this building wasn't managed well, we had other tenants in our adjoining properties and wanted out. They wanted to leave," said Patrick Madden of the Troy Rehabilitation Improvement Program, or TRIP, did exactly what his non-profit organization has been doing since 1968.

TRIP bought the building, completely gutting it, rebuilding the inside from top to bottom.

"It's important for us to not only get this building for this building. But, for this block," said Madden.

TRIP has renovated about 150 properties around the city many of them on Fifth Avenue. All are then rented to lower-income families. This particular one was bought a year ago but, work on the inside just began last week.

Crews are making the inside as green and energy efficient as possible, realizing utility costs can often break the bank.

People living nearby saying the rehab projects are clearly better than the alternative, which are neglected properties and vacant lots.

"I think it's great," said Chris Wise. "If they aren't being used otherwise and they're all run down, I think it's great they're trying to build them back up make it a better place."
The current venture on Fifth Avenue is expected to be completed by April or May.

Troy Rehabilitation Improvement Program continues to create affordable housing

TROY — The gutted three-story row house at 2232 Fifth Ave. may not look like much now, but the building —  and its upcoming renovation — represent the efforts of the Troy Rehabilitation Improvement Program (TRIP) to bring problem neighborhoods back into prominence, one house at a time. The not-for-profit organization has purchased the building and begun the process of turning it into an energy-efficient, four-family home for low-income families, with the hope of not only benefiting the future tenants but also anchoring the block for decades to come.

TRIP is a multi-service agency, acting as a stabilizer and landlord to tenants in dozens of rehabilitated buildings throughout the city, as well as a partner for community improvement efforts like this summer’s Paint the Boards program in the North Central neighborhood. Now, for the first time in years, it is taking on a complete overhaul with this building, which was shut down after numerous complaints and code violations.

“Our goal is to create living environments where people want to stay,” said TRIP Executive Director Wm. Patrick Madden. “We want people to live here because they like it here, not because it’s the only thing they can afford. That’s the environment we want to create, not only for the tenants but for the block as well.”

Renovations were already under way Tuesday afternoon, with George Tidmarsh from A.J. Arpy in Ballston Spa doing reinforcement work in the building. Many of the architectural features of the 19th-century building are still in place, including tile work in the entranceway, the stairway railing and an old dumbwaiter near the back stairway. Once completed, the new layout will include three-bedroom units on the top two floors with two smaller units on the first floor.

“We’re really able to reconfigure the floor plan to make it more in keeping with today’s market demands — bigger bedrooms, more bathroom space,” said Madden. “If we were to keep six bedrooms in each of these units the building would just have too many people.” The tenants will be selected from TRIP’s own roster of eligible families, contingent on income requirements based on family size. Madden said that he does not yet have tenants in mind or know what the rent would be, as it is dictated by income. TRIP would own the building long term, for at least 20 years.

With the announcement of the project, TRIP is also reaching out to the community for support through donations, which help to cover costs not met by grants and other revenue sources.

“We’re getting hit on all fronts, just like everybody else,” said Madden, referring to decreased donations and cuts to government-provided funding. “Yet, more and more people are coming in because they’re hurting as well and need help with housing.”

TRIP is already very familiar with this block of Fifth Avenue. Not only is their office within walking distance, but it also owns a string of buildings across the street from the planned rehab. In 1985, it purchased its first building on the block, the former Mr. Robert’s Pub, that had also seen its share of neglect and mismanagement.

“Let’s just say it wasn’t an asset in the community,” said Madden, adding that when they went in to gut the building, they started pulling 22 slugs out of the wall — the remnants from shootings that had apparently taken place at the pub. After the first renovation, they purchased a few more on the block. “We rehabbed all of those and we continue to own and manage those, having maintained them over the years.”

TRIP’s goal isn’t real estate dominance, however. Madden said the organization likes to see a mix of owners and tenants. One building on the block was recently purchased by TRIP and then sold to a family that wanted to oversee renovations themselves.

“We don’t aspire to own a block or a neighborhood, but sometimes there are buildings that have to be done with a lot of investment and we can commit and do that,” he said. TRIP’s presence in the community also helps to grow the tax base – the organization elects to pay property taxes on all of its 65 properties throughout the city, despite being a nonprofit.

The building will also be renovated with environmentally-friendly features like spray insulation, on-demand hot water heaters and Energy Star appliances to keep utility costs low for tenants.

“We’ve been paying attention to energy for a good number of years, and wherever we can raise money to do it, we’re doing it,” said Madden. “We realize that energy is becoming a larger and larger component of the cost of housing for poor people.”

Renovations are expected to be completed in spring of 2011, with tenants moving in shortly after the building is ready. Madden hopes that the project can spur private investment in the neighborhood.

“This should be a very desirable block,” said Madden. “We have the economic development going on down on River Street, with the Hedley Building and the possible creation of more jobs and opportunities. We’re hoping to see that spread out and this building as contributing to the revitalization of this whole neighborhood.”

TRIP’s offices are located at 415 River St. in Troy. For more information or to make a donation, contact 272-8289 or visit www.triponline.org.

Cecelia Martinez can be contacted at 270-1294 or by e-mail at cmartinez@troyrecord.com.