Friendly Neighborhood PAC
group of Albany citizens organizes to try to set the agenda
for the November elections
is no equity in our neighborhoods,” said Judith Mazaa, a South
End resident and political organizer. The current city administration,
she added, ignores whole neighborhoods, letting sidewalks
crumble, houses collapse, streets remain covered in filth,
and it leaves the people in these neighborhoods to struggle
against an economic development agenda that offers them little
to no opportunity.
Mazaa began meeting with a group of people from throughout
the city of Albany last summer with an explicit goal in mind:
to set the agenda for November’s election season. To that
end, a political action committee was formed from those regular,
mostly informal meetings of sometimes 30 people—Albany Neighborhoods
First—and a position paper was produced.
Dominick Calsolaro, Carolyn McLaughlin, Shawn Morris, Corey
Ellis, Barbara Smith and Catherine Fahey, all members of Albany’s
Common Council, contributed to the effort.
was a small group of us who felt strongly, because the elections
are coming up and all the city offices are up for reelection
and we wanted to be proactive and set the agenda,” said Mazaa.
“It was a group effort. Our concern, and it has been all along,
is that our neighborhoods have basically been neglected. We
have built up downtown, but we have ignored our neighborhoods.
If people aren’t living here, what happens? We don’t care
if people are going downtown if nobody is living here. We
don’t want a commuter city. We want a city where people live.
We live here, by choice, and believe that it is a beautiful
city, but the neighborhoods have to come first.”
Albany’s ballooning operating budget, which has grown by 60
percent over the past 10 years to $161.9 million, must be
brought under control, the group’s treatise reads. For too
long the city has overspent its revenue, relying heavily on
state aid and debt. ANF suggests a yearly 5 percent reduction
in the budget, to bring the debt service payment under $10
million in 10 years.
The document targets a need for Albany to create a “cabinet-level
position of energy director” and to reconfigure public transit
routes to better serve the people who live in the city and
not just those who are commuting to work. The social catastrophe
of Albany’s abandoned buildings and the blight that accompanies
them are also addressed in the document, with an urgent call
to improve code enforcement. The reinstitution of sound community
policing and an investment in youth programs are called for
to curb the frightening clip of violence in Arbor Hill and
the South End—a clip of violence, Mazaa reminded, that is
spreading out into neighborhoods once considered “safe.”
Albany Neighborhoods First wants a government, as they wrote,
“in step with its citizens,” a government that addresses education,
the need for radical infrastructure improvements, and offers
an open process for creating Albany’s Comprehensive Plan.
are looking at racial and economic justice throughout the
city, so that everyone has an opportunity for a decent job
and education,” Mazaa said. “This is the platform, this is
the agenda, these are the issues we want answers to.”
live in the South End, and I like living in the South End.
But just because I live in the South End doesn’t mean I should
have to put up with crap on my streets. No, I am not living
on Marion Avenue or Manning Boulevard,” she said. “Basically
the theme of the whole document, the underlying theme of the
whole document is, ‘How do we promote economic development
that promotes economic and racial justice?’”
City Council members want to take their time with a proposal
aimed at curbing “minidorms”
The Troy City Council is planning to extend a controversial
moratorium on subdividing houses to allow for more time to
revise a proposal introduced by the Troy Architecture Program.
The decision to extend the moratorium, which has already been
in place since last winter, for an additional six months to
a year was made after a Feb. 20 special council meeting on
a proposal to counter the practice of converting single- or
two-family houses into dwellings with multiple bedrooms rented
out to students or other unrelated adults. Homeowners from
the neighborhoods surrounding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
have been concerned with issues of neighborhood quality and
parking in the areas where these dwellings are present.
According to Councilman John Brown (D-At Large), the council
will motion at the Finance Committee meeting tonight to add
the moratorium to the agenda for next month’s meeting.
increasing the number of people that they can put in a building
by converting two separate units into one unit,” Brown said.
“The TAP proposal is crafted to basically put a definition
on this situation.”
Rather than addressing the conversions directly, the proposal
sets definitions for the term “roomer” as “a person who lives
in a rented room, whether or not they pay rent individually.”
The proposal also considers a group of roomers different from
a family in that it is “an unrelated group of individuals
living together temporarily for convenience.” The proposal
would place these “rooming houses” in commercial zones only.
The need for the moratorium extension became apparent after
people voiced concerns at the public hearing over whom the
proposal would actually affect.
targeting a specific problem, we may be painting with too
broad a brush, and a family that actually owns their home
could fall victim to this if they wanted to do work on their
home to make it more livable,” Brown said. “That’s something
that we’ll have to look at, the language of how this is implemented
to make sure that we’re specifically targeting the problem
we’re trying to address and that there isn’t any overlap.”
Although generally supported by the community members present
at the public hearing, the proposal has received some criticism
from property groups and landlords specializing in student
think it’s a dangerous precedent, and a slippery slope as
far as discrimination issues and fair housing,” said Jason
Hayes, of the Troy Property Group, who described the public
hearing as a “kind of student-bashing fest. The fact is that
RPI has 3,000 students with off-campus housing, and they’re
not going to go away. I’m hopeful that the students will have
The Troy Property Group had previous issues with the moratorium.
In August 2008 the company filed a lawsuit against the Troy
City Council after the moratorium was passed. The lawsuit
was later dismissed at the end of October.
Hayes said that he is very confident in the service that the
Troy Property Group provides, and fears that if legitimate
property companies are hurt by the proposal, students will
fall victim to slumlords. He also expressed concerns over
what he sees as a potential conflict of interest between Joe
Fama, executive director of TAP, and various neighborhood
think its very important to have an unbiased architecture
firm look at the issue,” Hayes said. The council estimated
that it would take three to four months to hammer out the
details of the proposal, and they are extending the moratorium
for at least six months to give themselves a cushion. Brown
said that while the lawsuit from Troy Property Group was not
a major concern, the council would take measures to secure
the legality of the proposal.
as the lawsuit that they brought forward was thrown out and
basically deemed by the judge to have no merit, I don’t expect
to have a lot of resistance from them as we move forward,
but we’re going to have to wait and see,” Brown said. “If
you have the resources you can sue someone over anything,
Brown also said that the council is not planning on making
the proposal retroactive.
in a situation where someone’s already done work on a building,
they’ve already invested money in doing something like that,
and to target them and to take rental money out of their pocket
by saying that they’re renting to too many people,” he said.
“I don’t know if we can legally go after them on that.”
With the expected extension of the moratorium, which was originally
scheduled to expire on March 31, the council will have at
least until the end of September to make changes to the proposal.
There will also be at least two more public hearings where
students, property owners and Troy residents will be able
to express their views on this proposal.
Congressman Paul Tonko (left) came to Troy Monday to deliver
the good word. That day, President Barack Obama would be flying
to Denver to sign the $787 billion stimulus bill into law.
Tonko happily promised
that anywhere from $24 to $27 billion of that windfall would
make its way to New York. Troy’s Republican Mayor Harry Tutunjian
(right) hosted the congressman for the morning press conference
and took the opportunity to enumerate his wish list of multimillion-dollar
infrastructure projects. The two men were flanked by members
of the county Legislature, the mayors from Green Island and
Cohoes, the Rensselaer County executive, and Republican chairman
of the Rensselaer County Legislature Neil Kelleher (center),
who said he was happy to be getting a handout from the Democratic
president and Congress.
loose ends this week-