Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood, one of the oldest in the capital, has long been a symbol of urban decay. Outdated public housing buildings, vacant warehouses, and a general lack of investment defined the area. All of that is changing now, though, as the area is now one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city thanks to a concerted effort from local policymakers, New York State, and innovative entrepreneurs. Better yet, its transformation is a model that can be replicated across our state as communities continue to seek ways to combat our housing crisis.
A significant milestone was recently reached in Arbor Hill with the completion of Phase II of the Ida Yarbrough Homes Redevelopment project. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing had the distinct pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony and seeing firsthand the new development at 280 North, which created 76 mixed-income affordable apartments. A third of those reserved for the formerly homeless and/or those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities.
That alone is reason to celebrate, but the reality is that it is there is another, deeper cause for celebration: the investment into Ida Yarbrough’s redevelopment, which began in 2016, has spurred a dramatic change in the neighborhood.
For example, a warehouse that sits across from the public housing complex — originally built in the 1970s — sat vacant for years, benefiting nobody. It was a physical testament of the lack of investment and change in the neighborhood. Now, though, the formerly vacant structure will soon house a vibrant public theatre that will be owned and operated by The Proctors Collaborative. Work is underway; the first live show will be performed in Spring 2020.
The new theatre sits next to the Albany Distillery — on the site of another former derelict property—and a new private housing development.
Philip Morris, CEO of the Collaborative, decided to invest in the property in the first place thanks to the investment in the surrounding neighborhood, including Ida Yarbrough. He has even said that conversations with Albany Public Housing, and New York State Homes and Community Renewal, about plans for the public housing complex helped demonstrate the neighborhood’s potential. The theatre even received a Community Investment Fund grant to get off the ground.
This all speaks to the power of investment in historically underserved communities. Because of the leadership of Governor Cuomo and his ambitious five-year housing plan, a wide range of funds were invested into the dilapidated Ida Yarbrough complex. That investment spurred a wave of private interest into a neighborhood that is dense with subsidized and public housing and helped transform an entire area into a vibrant mixed-use center.
This should serve as a reminder of how effectively addressing New York’s affordable housing crisis will require collaboration and creative funding streams, but also to the impact of visionary urban planning.
There is still much more work to be done in Albany, where nearly half of all renters are burdened by their housing costs, and across all of New York. Families need real solutions to this crisis, and at Arbor Hill, we all witnessed what those solutions look like.