Union-Schenectady Initiative (USI): revitalizing the surrounding neighborhoods

November 30, 2014

In October 1998, Union College announced the Union-Schenectady Initiative (USI), a broad-based plan to invest $10 million in a declining neighborhood to the west of campus. The Initiative is designed to revitalize the target neighborhood by offering homeownership incentives and by the development/enhancement of community resources. USI enhances the College s competitive position by expanding housing options for students, faculty and staff, and by beautifying the area surrounding the west border of campus.

The Initiative is a partnership that strengthens the relationship between Union College and the City of Schenectady now and into the future. For the City, a Schenectady neighborhood receives a much-needed infusion of capital; and the College benefits by enhancing student, staff, and faculty housing, as well as by improving the environment outside our gates.

The US Initiative attacks the ever-worsening problem of urban decay at its core. By offering a number of incentives attractive mortgage programs, full-tuition scholarships for neighborhood residents, the construction of a community center, the creation of a neighborhood association, and the establishment of a security office in the neighborhood the US Initiative encourages home ownership, a crucial factor in stabilizing and strengthening a community.

As part of the effort, the College has acquired 40 properties in the initiative area that will be completely renovated for student, staff, and faculty housing by Fall 2000. Many of the properties in the USI area were absentee-owned residences; houses were neglected, tenants paid unreasonable rents. The US Initiative addresses that issue by providing tuition-free scholarship funds, which gives prospective buyers an incentive to turn absentee-owned properties into family homes. Today, the neighborhood is transformed. With the vast majority of Union s work on houses complete, and with major streetscape improvements underway, the neighborhood is now considered one of the more striking areas in the entire City of Schenectady. And, USI incentives have generated more than ten home purchases in the Initiative area, which reverses an ongoing trend of slumping home sales in the City of Schenectady.

Another benefit that resulted from Union s Initiative is improved town/gown relations, which represents a significant measure of the overall success of the program. The key to this success is keeping the lines of communication open. Public meetings with Union s neighbors and the City of Schenectady to both provide information and seek feedback enabled the College to move forward as a community to better the neighborhood.

Finally, in addition to the community benefit, students gain from being engaged in Union s revitalization efforts. Within the target neighborhood and beyond, Union students participate in such activities as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, tutoring in Schenectady schools, mentoring, neighborhood watch programs, and community work projects.

Gretchel Tyson, director of affirmative action and community outreach, ysong@union.edu
Union-Schenectady Initiative web site: http://muse.union.edu/newsarchives/1999/04/23/usi-volunteers-help-with-information-relocation/?_ga=1.239408835.1156147092.1424899543

Union College - NY, New York
President: ROGER HULL
Contact Person: Gretchel Tyson, director of affirmative action and community outreach, tysong@union.edu

Union-Schenectady Initiative web site: http://www.union.edu/News/CollegeNews/USI/
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