Kingston Land Bank gets $3.1 million from anonymous donor to fix up homes

An anonymous gift will pay for a new city initiative to deal with vacant and distressed properties. The $3.1 million, routed to the city by an anonymous donor through Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, will allow the new Kingston Land Bank to purchase and renovate 36 parcels taken by the city for back taxes. The money will also fund a new headquarters for the land bank and the city’s community and economic development offices in the heart of Midtown’s revitalization zone.

“We expect this to be a very impactful grant,” said Community Foundations President and CEO March Gallagher.

The Kingston Land Bank was formally incorporated earlier this year. This week, the city mailed letters to nominees who have been chosen to form a board of directors. The quasi-governmental agency’s mission is to purchase, rehabilitate and return to the market vacant and distressed properties that have been seized by the city for back taxes. The land bank is intended to be self-funding, using grants and proceeds from home sales to fund further purchases and pay staff salaries. Mayor Steve Noble said the multi-million cash infusion will allow the land bank to start out on a firm financial footing while taking nearly all surplus properties off of the city’s hands.

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“It’s not everything,” said Noble of the grant’s impact on surplus property rolls. “But it’s pretty darn close.”

The grant will be split between the remainder of this year and next. This year, a little over $1 million will pay off back taxes on some 36 parcels currently held by the city. The parcels are spread throughout the city. The properties include 19 single-family homes, a pair of two-family residences, 12 vacant lots and a former bar at 46 Grand St. Outstanding tax bills on the parcels range from $545 for a vacant lot on Purvis Street to $142,000 for a vacant commercial lot on North Street. Additional funding from the grant, which will be included in the city’s 2019 budget, will fund rehabilitation and marketing of the properties.

The land bank’s charter gives the agency wide latitude in how to dispose of the properties: by funding new construction on vacant lots or entering lease agreements for commercial properties, for example. But, Noble has said, the bank’s primary mission will be to market affordable homes to first time buyers. The strategy, he said, would help maintain affordability and enhance stability in neighborhoods threatened by gentrification while addressing the blighting impacts of long-vacant parcels in residential neighborhoods.

“The goal is to put housing that people can afford in every neighborhood in Kingston,” said Noble. “It also provides stability — everyone knows that if you have a vacant house on your street things can go downhill fast.”

Franklin Street

Another $298,000 from the grant will pay back taxes and rehabilitation costs for 124-126 Franklin St. The building, now a vacant neighborhood eyesore, will become the new home of the land bank as well as the city’s Community and Economic Development Office. The site is in the heart of a Midtown revitalization zone centered on the city’s poorest census tracts. Each year, the federal community development block grant program, administered by the Community Development office, funnels hundreds of thousands of dollars into programs and services designed to aid neighborhood residents.

“We felt it was the right way to connect with the neighborhood and give people access to all of the services that we provide,” said Noble.

Another $100,000 from the grant will fund a housing rehabilitation specialist and administrative staff for the land bank. Community Development Director Brenna Robinson will serve as the bank’s executive director, with a portion of her salary refunded to the city through the grant. The entire land bank will be overseen by a board of directors made up of two residents of each of the city’s three county legislature districts, along with representatives from the planning and building departments. Noble said that he expected to have the board of directors in place soon.

On Tuesday, the Kingston Common Council voted unanimously to accept the grant funding for the current fiscal year and to transfer the surplus parcels to the land bank. Noble said the reminder of the grant funding would be incorporated into next year’s city budget.

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