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September 14, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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September 14 , 2007

The Bombing Of Alexander Street

Albany makes a profit by encouraging the
abandonment of 19th century buildings

Last Thursday morning I went to Alexander Street in the South End of Albany to survey the damage done to our cityscape by the City of Albany.

It looked like a bombing, like photos I’ve seen of German cities around 1945. Or perhaps like the once thriving City of Fallujah in Iraq after it was “pacified” by American forces. Then again, what happened to Alexander Street is a little taste of what the Federal government did to vast areas of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

After The Long, Slow Attack
After The Long, Slow Attack

These houses, as I recall, were all attached to each other. The destruction began at Reverend Miller’s sturdy brick house, which appeared to be in fine shape. In the above photo you can see the guys on the roof tearing off the remains of the house next door.

The well-kept occupied house at 45 Alexander was still standing as of 10 AM Thursday, contrary to Hearst Times Union reports. Word is still out on whether or not it will also be torn down. Also not reported in the Hearst Times Union accounts splashed all over the Thursday front page is that the next vacant building at 53 Alexander may also be destroyed.

My dominant thought upon approaching the scene with my camera was that Alexander Street had been victimized by a terrorist attack... by the terroristic elected officials who run and exploit our City for their own personal gain. I mean, who really worries about Osama bin Laden? We’ve got Jerry Jennings and his obedient minions doing all the work for Al Qaeda.

Yes, of course, these buildings were a serious hazard, almost or at falling down condition. There’s no denying that, but they didn’t get that way overnight. This was more like a long, slow, carefully planned out terrorist attack, one that started back when evil old Erastus Corning was The Mayor and continues to the present day.

I struck up a conversation with Captain Ray Kalendek of the Albany Fire Department, who was keeping a close eye on the operation. He told me he did not like doing this to “historical houses” as he put it. Although he currently resides in the suburbs, he grew up in the South End not far from here. He remembers when this street was thriving. I certainly have no reason to doubt anything that he told me.

Captain Ray Kaledek, AFD Surveys The Scene
Captain Ray Kalendek, AFD Surveys The Scene

Captain Kalendek pointed to the pile of bricks that used to be 43 Alexander Street. “We had to remove the tree in front of the house first,” he said. “A small limb, not real tiny but not big, fell against the facade of the building and part of it caved in, just like that. That’s all it took.”

The Captain could not answer some of my questions. Why was the water left on in the vacant buildings, several of which had no roof? It was this running City of Albany water that poured into the occupied house at 45 Alexander and precipitated the “crisis.” Surely the City has the power and authority to mandate that the water be shut off in inactive vacant buildings.

Why was the falling down condition of the buildings such a big surprise? And most important of all, why were these buildings allowed to disintegrate to such a bad state?

45 Alexander, The Occupied House In Between

Well, I know why these buildings were allowed to rot. Pay attention here, because this is very important:

The government of the City of Albany needs vacant buildings to balance the annual City budget. Thus, for decades the City has followed a policy of encouraging the abandonment of buildings. Seriously.

It works like this. When a property is more than three years delinquent on taxes, Albany County seizes the property. The City does not seize the properties. Albany is one of only two counties in New York State that does that. (The other one is a rural county out west near Buffalo, no one around here ever remembers which one.)

Albany County, as the owner of the seized property, becomes liable for the back taxes. So the County hands over the amount, whatever it might be, to the City. Naturally, this is all on the taxpayer’s dime.

What does the City do with that County money? Do they use it to stabilize vacant buildings, to acquire and renovate selected properties? Do they make grants and zero interest loans to struggling homeowners so that their buildings can stay in decent shape? Do they use the money to haul out of state speculators into court and force them to take responsibility for their properties?

Nope, none of that money is used to do one damn thing to fix our precious buildings or keep them from decaying. Every penny goes into the “general fund.” It gets spent on “stuff.”

In other words, the City treats the County reimbursements for back taxes as a source of profit with which they can do as they please.

53 Alexander, Next On The List?
53 Alexander, Next On The List?

Every year, the City budget is revealed as late as possible, sometimes hours before the Common Council is allowed to vote to adopt it. Neither citizens or elected representatives have time to study it and make comments or suggest changes. This is widely considered a deliberate trick on the part of The Mayor’s office, a way of avoiding accountability.

In any case, this money source is well hidden. The Comptroller’s report for 2006 does not even list the revenue from County reimbursements for abandoned properties. It has to be in there somewhere, but we taxpayers don’t get to see it. But without that money, the City couldn’t balance its budget.

Think of Mayor Jerry Jennings as a crackhead, and that County money as crack. He’s gotta have it, just like he needs the revenue from the City Dump out on Rapp Road. The Smelly Dump accounts for ten percent of the City’s revenue, surely the vacant building reimbursements are much more than that.

The Mayor would give up his favorite tanning bed before he would wean himself and the City off these two destructive revenue sources.

There’s a simple way to break this cycle of dependency, and save our unique and beautiful urban architecture from deliberate neglect and final destruction. The money came from the abandoned properties, right? So the money needs to go back into the abandoned properties where it belongs.

We’re not talking rocket science or advanced economic theory here. We know that there is intense demand for housing in downtown Albany. If the City invests in vacant properties and run down neighborhoods, the influx of new taxable population into these neighborhoods will prove many, many times more profitable to the City than the trickle of revenue from the County.

But who will bring about these necessary changes? The majority of the Common Council is still composed of spineless obedient hacks who only know how to obey orders from their boss. Like everything else in City government, it comes down to the virtual dictator himself, The Mayor.

If The Mayor wants to put the County money to good use rebuilding the City, then it will happen. If, as expected, He wants to continue to squander it supporting unwanted corporate chain “drugstores” then by god that money is going to continue to go down the budgetary toilet bowl. And into certain pockets, no doubt.

Our Urban Heritage Transformed Into Landfill
Our Urban Heritage Transformed Into Landfill

As for the County, I’m told that they can’t tell the City how to spend the money once they get it. But gee whiz, couldn’t our County leaders make some noise, demand accountability from the City, delay or cut off the money if certain demands are not met? Unfortunately, no one on the County side wants to touch this issue with a four story wrecking crane.

How do our County politicians benefit from this arrangement, that they don’t want to see it disappear? What’s in it for them?

The one bright spot is that The Mayor is publicly starting to catch on to the realities of the situation. Earlier in the week, at a public meeting, I heard Him say the following quote about real estate in Albany:

“This is a hotter market than some people realize.”

Hm, yes. Will The Mayor have enough sense to take advantage of that hot market and make those properties available and desirable for investment? Or will The Mayor continue to think up new ways to degrade and destroy our City?

Our 19th Century streetscape is one of our most important assets. We must do whatever is necessary to save our buildings, no matter what the cost. The financial rewards for wrecking our City must cease. We cannot afford any more Alexander Street type virtual bombings.

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