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Michele DeLair

“In the 53 years I’ve lived here, never has there been such an effort to work directly with the neighbors to make the city of Troy a better place to live,” says Troy native Michele DeLair. 
Photo by Mark McCarty

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Building a Renewal Plan

One of President Jackson’s earliest charges to her leadership team was to improve the overall quality of life of the Troy and campus communities through revitalizing infrastructure and building better relationships with the surrounding neighborhoods.

She quickly appointed a committee to develop an approach to neighborhood renewal. The committee hired the Troy Architectural Program (TAP), a nonprofit company founded by Rensselaer alumni that provides architectural services, to help determine an appropriate role for the Institute and to advise on neighborhood planning.

Community input was garnered to help establish what the quality of life issues really were in the eyes of those who live in the neighborhoods. A 40-block target area was established north and south of campus.

The committee has since grown into a vibrant, 35-member task force representing residents, Rensselaer faculty and administrative leaders, students, community nonprofit associations, local businesses and hospitals, and city leaders.

“We didn’t want to acquire properties simply to push out the edges of campus. We wanted to talk to the neighbors to find out what the quality-of-life issues really were and how we could make things better,” says Barbara Nelson ’80, a Rensselaer project manager who is heading the Institute’s neighborhood initiative.

Nelson, who has lived in Troy for nearly 20 years, is no stranger to neighborhood renewal on the most basic level. One week after she graduated from Rensselaer in 1980 with an architecture degree in hand, she, along with two fellow graduates and a student, bought a run-down vacant building on 10th Street for $8,000.

With the help of a $10,000 city rehabilitation grant, the foursome gutted and refurbished the two-story building into a comfortable home, its value steadily increasing more than tenfold before Nelson sold it five years ago.

“The windows were boarded up and the yard was badly overgrown with weeds. But the plumbing and electricity worked,” Nelson remembers with a smile.

Building Up Homeownership

According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in the past 10 years the number of homeowner-occupied houses in the city of Troy’s neighborhoods has dropped and the number of rental units has risen. Knowing that homeowner-occupied housing is a good indicator of a community’s strength—coupled with the fact that property values are still lagging behind regional trends—community leaders want to restore a healthy balance between homeowners and landlord investors.

The first step in Rensselaer’s initiative to promote homeownership was the purchase of eight tax-foreclosed properties bordering the campus.

“One driving force behind this particular initiative is the fact that Peoples Avenue, and 8th and 15th streets, are gateways to the campus,” Nelson says. “Infrastructure, streetscape, and property improvements along those corridors will be beneficial to Rensselaer, the neighborhood, and the city at large. This is just one of the several innovative programs we are continuing to develop.”

Plans are already under way for many of the properties. The most significant activity so far is an 8th Street lot, on the west edge of the campus, where a building was demolished and donated to Capital District Community Gardens. Rensselaer plans to transfer the deed to the Troy-based nonprofit, which creates garden lots for city residents. Community Gardens has hopes of developing an urban agricultural education center on the property.

Two buildings on 15th Street also were torn down to make way for development and to return properties to the city’s tax roles. One of the properties is being converted into an off-street parking lot. The university is conducting a feasibility study for the other.

All three properties had vacant, abandoned buildings, and had been confiscated by the city because of tax delinquency. The five remaining properties have houses on them. Those buildings will be renovated and sold to homeowners, Nelson says.

To further encourage homeownership in Troy, Rensselaer committed $50,000 in the last year for the Homebuyer Incentive Program, which is not limited to the Rensselaer community. The Howard and Bush Foundation, a charitable organization that benefits Rensselaer County residents, provided an additional $25,000 grant to support the cause. So far, 12 of the 15 grants for this year have been awarded.



Rensselaer Magazine: September 2002
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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