Developer Offers $ 300,000 Pledge to Non-Profit Dormitory Development Proposal in Albany


ALBANY – The developer of a huge 557-bed private dormitory proposed for Washington Avenue is offering a six-figure donation to Habitat to Humanity to meet the city’s affordable housing requirements.

The three-way proposal between the developer, the association and the city would provide $ 300,000 in gap funding for up to 12 Habitat for Humanity homes.

It would also be an unusual way to provide additional affordable housing in the city while avoiding a direct challenge to the city’s affordable housing requirements under its zoning code.

The final deal is still being worked out, but any approval from the planning council is conditional on the deal being signed, planning director Brad Glass said this week.

Glass said there had been several discussions between the board and the developer about whether the housing requirements should include a private dormitory. There are two other private dormitories on Washington Avenue, but they were built before the city revised its zoning requirements in 2017.

The project in question would destroy an existing Cresthill Suites at 1415 Washington Ave. to be replaced by a private dormitory. The developer behind the project is Evan Podob, partner of Scenic Investments, based in New York. She applied for and received a payment in lieu of taxes agreement from the city’s industrial development agency with $ 8.2 million in tax exemptions that are dependent on the approval of the city’s planning council. The project estimates that it will create 300 construction jobs and eight permanent jobs.

The plans call for 230 apartments with one, two and four bedrooms. The project would have five floors on one parking level, with space for around 181 cars, according to the application filed with the city’s planning council. The project would also include an 8,000 square foot yard and an 8,300 square foot plaza, among other amenities.

Under the city’s zoning code, any project with more than 50 units is supposed to reserve at least 5% of its units for affordable housing for residents earning 100% or less of the city’s median income.

In this case, there was concern that a precedent would be set for developers to bypass affordable housing requirements.

But the promoter’s representatives argued to the city’s planning council that given the unique characteristics of a dormitory – with students not living there all year round and reliance on a variety of sources of financing such as loans and grants as well as their parents – it would not have to comply with the affordable housing requirement. The project also called for students to rent by bed rather than by unit.

Local attorney for the developer, Andy Brick, said in an interview Thursday that his client supports affordable housing and has decided to offer the donation as a way to show support.

“This is their first project in Albany and they wanted to support USDO’s affordable housing requirements,” said Andy Brick, referring to the city’s zoning codes.

The city’s planning council ultimately agreed that the requirement was probably not intended to include private dormitories. Discussions between the developer and the city led the developer to make an initial offer of $ 150,000 which was raised to $ 300,000.

Christine Schudde, Habitat’s executive director for the Human Capital District, said a typical Habitat house costs $ 250,000 and sells for around $ 150,000. That leaves a gap of $ 100,000 that they must fill for each house, which usually comes from grants and donations.

“This money for us, it certainly helps close the funding gap,” she said. “There is usually only a huge funding gap to fill. “

The nonprofit typically builds eight to ten homes in Albany and Troy each year, she said.

Schudde added that Habitat for Humanity supports zoning codes that require developers to add affordable housing units.

A secondary concern – the addition of 560 students who would have to cross Washington Avenue to get to class – is also discussed. According to a draft memorandum of understanding, the developer would pay $ 288,600 to install a traffic light and other improvements around it, to mitigate the additional impact of more pedestrians.

University of Albany spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said the university was not directly involved in discussions about the project but was paying attention, speaking occasionally with the city’s planning office .

The university has worked to address the pedestrian safety issue, as a number of private dormitories have opened across from its campus.

“In this case, we understand that the town planning council asked the developer to work with the city to add infrastructure to make the area safer for pedestrians. This is good news and an important precedent, ”he said in an email.

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