By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
You know how Habitat for Humanity builds houses for families?
Picture the classic scene: A swarm of community volunteers hammers boards, muds sheetrock, raises walls. The beneficiary family puts in “sweat equity” on the way to home ownership. The house is built. A key is handed over, threshold crossed, maybe a whoop of celebration.
Adam Feldman, the executive director of Glens Falls Area Habitat for Humanity, has a new plan: Build a 25-unit mixed income condo building in Queensbury at Fairfield Properties, on Baybridge, off Bay Road, near SUNY Adirondack. It’s a first for Habitat for Humanity “anywhere in the world,” to his knowledge, Mr. Feldman tells The Chronicle. “Why help one or two families a year, which has been our model so far? Is there a way we can do 100?”
He says, “Owners Dan and Pamela Valente have offered a philanthropic bargain sale” of the property “at a substantial discount.”
The Warren County Board of Supervisors just granted the project $250,000 of it $12.4 million in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds.
“This is us, locally, trying to drive solutions to the housing crisis. It’s coming from me…maybe me being foolish,” Mr. Feldman laughs, thinking about the magnitude of what he and his team might be taking on.
His business background
Mr. Feldman says he’s a former Lehman Brothers banker who moved to Australia for his wife’s job and ditched the corporate life. He said they eventually returned to the U.S. and Saratoga County, to be closer to where his wife grew up in Galway. He started a preschoolers’ activities franchise called Go Kids, and was invited by one of the parents to join the board of Habitat for Humanity.
Seeing opportunity to run the shoestring non-profit “more like a business,” he says he offered his help.
“I was the first employee” of the previously all-volunteer group, Mr. Feldman recounts. “Now we have 11 employees.
“When I say I’m entrepreneurial, I’m entrepreneurial like that: Go from none to one to 11 employees. Go from two to serving 100 families.”
EDC Warren County’s initiative
Mr. Feldman says of the origin of the condo plan, “The community came to me.” He says Jim Siplon, President and CEO of the Warren County Economic Development Corporation, invited him to join the EDC’s new Housing Committee.
“We’re of a like mind,” Mr. Feldman says. “The community needs a supply of housing across the spectrum — single family homes, apartments, affordable, higher-end.” He says, “No affordable housing, no people to fill jobs, no economic growth.”
Mr. Feldman says, “Your favorite restaurant that was open seven days is open four days because they can’t staff it. You don’t have enough members in the volunteer fire department. The student body is down from 125 to 80 and you don’t have a football team. The fabric of what you think of as America — it goes away.”
“From my lens as an entrepreneur, I see challenges as an opportunity for doing big cool things,” said Mr. Feldman.
Multi-unit plans in Saratoga, GF, too
Glens Falls Habitat, which serves Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga Counties, plans a similar condo project on Putnam Street in Saratoga Springs.
And they received $200,000 in ARPA funding from the City of Glens Falls to help purchase a 10-unit rental property at 37-40 Lawrence Street. There, they are partnering with WAIT House in Glens Falls, which serves homeless teens and teen or young parents.
“We see that one as a pipeline,” Mr. Feldman says. “We can charge affordable rent, help the families improve their credit, with us as landlords. It’s not a prerequisite, but we see that as a way to transition more families to home ownership.”
Meanwhile, in the traditional Habitat model, they are currently building a house at 62 Orville Street in Glens Falls, and doing a rehab project in Corinth.
They’re also buying a 2-bedroom house in Glens Falls that they will convert to a 3-bedroom for another family, and plan to start a single family house in Saratoga Springs next spring.
Mr. Feldman says he expects the ARPA grants “will unlock” additional funding sources and loans.
The Fairfield proposal was to go before the Queensbury Planning Board on Wednesday. A site plan for 25 units on the site has already been approved under the prior owners, Mr. Feldman says. “We are seeking an extension on that,” as they take the property over.
‘Ownership is key’; starter home need
His goal: “How do I support as many families as possible within our mission?”
That mission, says the Website: To provide opportunities for homeownership to families with an income of 50-80% of the area median, ability to pay an affordable mortgage, willingness to partner through sweat equity and taking classes.
Mr. Feldman says New York’s traditional affordable housing model “leans toward rentals.” Habitat advocates for ownership.
“Historically speaking, home ownership specifically impacts families in a greater way, to make greater generational gains,” Mr. Feldman says.
He cites a September New York Times article, “Whatever Happened to the Starter Home,” that says properties suitable to first-time buyers don’t exist.
“There’s plenty of demand, no supply. Builders aren’t building it any more,” Mr. Feldman summarizes. “A developer is not gonna build a $200,000 house when they can build a $500,000 house.”
He says, “A lot of people call us — homeless — thinking we can help them. That’s not what we do. We are happy to direct them to available services.
“Habitat is for the family that finds home ownership just out of reach. They’re paying their bills, they have established credit, but they can’t save up the $50,000 down payment. Or they can’t buy the $150,000 house that needs repair, or they can’t afford the mortgage.
“New construction under $200,000 — that’s the group we serve. That’s every young professional, single-income-earner household, a lot of seniors.”
Mr. Feldman anticipates the Fairfield property condos “will be the equivalent of a $175,000 to $200,000 mortgage, $350,000 to $400,000 for the higher rent ones.”
“It’s designed for the workforce,” he said. “The point is to drive independence.”
As with any Habitat-built house, he says, “there are pros and cons to owning your own home. We are here for support if you need, but you need to be responsible.”
He expects the condo will eventually be run by an owners association.
It will be built by a professional contractor rather than an army of volunteers, Mr. Feldman says. “We are still working all that out.” How families will earn sweat equity, “we are working that out too.”
Jim Siplon: Habitat’s GF chief is ‘willing to color outside the lines’
“I advocated for the ARPA grant for Habitat for Humanity,” says Jim Siplon, President and CEO of the Warren County Economic Development Corporation, speaking of the $250,000 in federal Covid relief funds that the Warren County Board of Supervisors committed to the 25-unit mixed income condo project planned at Baybridge in Queensbury.
“We’re pretty public about the need to build additional housing,” Mr. Siplon told The Chronicle, “and eager endorsers of a credible partner to do that.”
He describes Habitat Executive Director Adam Feldman as “a local leader willing to color outside the lines.”
“Habitat is willing to step into this issue right away with a deviation of their mode, Mr. Siplon said.
“It’s hard to find someone, an organization better positioned to do this, and with the same experience and credibility.” — Cathy DeDe
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