SCHENECTADY – living space for humanity from Schenectady County used funds from the city’s HOMES initiative to graduate a construction at 323 Schenectady St. in 2016.
But the murder of a woman and other concerns in the neighborhood on the 500 block that street made it difficult to sell, according to the agency Managing Director Madelyn Thorne.
The lack of interest led Thorne to try something outside the box.
Thorne said she hired a specific person, Community Fathers Executive Director Walter Simpkins, to apply.
Simpkin’s eventual purchase of the house was celebrated with fanfare on Tuesday at City Hall as part of National Homeownership Month.
Thorne said Simpkin’s understanding of the neighborhood, combined with his reputation in the city, and “all the work he does in 12307 suited him well, and “we just have to get him there”.
Community Fathers is a full paternity program that includes programs on domestic violence accountability, community re-entry from Schenectady County Jail, community fathers drug justice group, male achievement program with high school students, and more.
The nature of Simpkins’ work meant the neighborhood would soon be overrun by “young men working to get their lives going, ”Thorne said of her recruiting efforts.
Local and federal officials highlighted Simpkins’ journey to buying a home exemplifies the wide variety of ways city dwellers can access when considering buying, and Mayor Gary McCarthy declared June 29th Walter Simpkins Day.
Simpkins bought the house in December after Habitat again worked with the urban development department to give Simpkins a two-year lease.
Meanwhile, Simpkins’ mortgage readiness took work so the first time home buyer got help from Better Communities Neighborhood Inc. consultant Alexandria Carver.
The organization rehabilitated and build houses in the community, and carvers helped Simpkins improve his credit score as he guided him through the mortgage approval process.
McCarthy read a proclamation recognizing Simpkins as the new homeowner in town who “has touched the lives of countless people across the region through his personal history and professional work and restored hope to young men in our community. “
“That’s too much,” Simpkins responded during the Roundtable discussion that included Lisa Pugliese, head of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in Buffalo, who participated virtually.
The group credited Simpkins for being a beacon for the turn of the habitat district. Habitat had completed eight buildings before Simpkins’ house was built.
Simpkins, in turn, said he loved the neighborhood.
“The neighborhood has such hope for all of us because many of us on this block are homeowners of Habitat,” he said.
Simpkins said the ability to be able to make the purchase for the same monthly price Simpkins paid elsewhere as rent.
Thorne said Habitat returned the rent as a grant towards Simpkins’ down payment.
After the round table, Simpkins, who is in his 70s, said he thinks it is a miracle to own a home after arriving in Schenectady from Brooklyn in 1999, “broke”, deeply depressed and ephemeral.
Simpkins said he diagnosed and treated his depression here, and opportunities have opened up for him since moving to Schenectady. In 2009 he founded Community Fathers.
Simpkins said he had never thought of owning a home, because in New York City most people of color live in apartments.
“I was perfectly content to be a resident until the opportunity arose for me,” he said.
Simpkins said owning property in the city he serves feels like “a combination of what came out of my DNA here in Schenectady, changing my life and trying to change the people around me. That was all. “
The city launched the HOMES initiative – Homeownership Made Easy in Schenectady – as a partnership between area banks, real estate agents and other housing-related institutions to promote and facilitate home ownership.
The initiative’s first-time buyer program offers low and middle income buyers up to $ 10,000 in down payment and closing costs.
McCarthy said the city sees property as a key element of neighborhood stability and a cornerstone of strength for its working families.
McCarthy outlined the city’s coordinated efforts to remove dilapidated properties and sell vacant properties, working with potential home buyers while facilitating redevelopment and construction with HUD, Habitat, brokers, bankers, community leaders, and other entities.
Their combined efforts work to break down barriers and ensure hard-working families have the right access and opportunity to dream of owning a home, McCarthy said.
Last year, in collaboration with a land bank in the capital region, the city demolished 34 dilapidated and distressed vacant buildings – what McCarthy described as the worst of the worst – to create opportunities for new living space.
The Schenectady Housing Development Fund Corp. helped eleven first-time home buyers in 2020.
Pugliese said HUD offers FHA mortgage insurance that accepts lower down payments and credit qualifications, and HUD-approved housing counseling agencies can help homebuyers through the buying process with guidance and education.
Simpkins said many people in the city are unaware of the home ownership opportunities the city is making available.
“They don’t know that there are people around them willing to help them every step of the way. And I really hope this will tell people who are on the edge of society or trying to figure out if it is possible that the possibilities are yours. All you have to do is take a step forward and we’ll make it happen. Things happen.”