West indian culture

Schenectady residents say code enforcement tramples Caribbean culture

SCHENECTADY – Ifrecak Miller gestured towards a house with bullet holes on Lincoln Avenue.

Then she motioned to the thoroughfare next to her house once known as ‘Gunshot Alley’ for its role as an escape hatch providing a quick exit for those fleeing the police.

The block was once a lawless open-air drug market and was not immune to fatal shootings.

“In 2006 this block was like a drug highway,” said fellow owner James Sauers.

Since then, a lot has changed on the two-block stretch between Hulett and Craig streets.

Residents attribute the neighborhood’s revitalization to a wave of West Indian transplants who have bought homes and made improvements, increasing property values ​​and stabilizing the area in the process.

“Every summer there are always improvements,” Sauers said. “The West Indians come to help, improve and develop the city. “

The enclave of the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood is now dotted with vibrant gardens, colorful facades, and the ubiquitous soundtrack of Caribbean music that floats through the neighborhood.


Noel “John” Gomez moved from New York City in pursuit of a slower lifestyle.

“It’s like heaven,” Gomez said.

Still, the changes resulted in headaches. Twenty-three neighborhood properties received citations from the city’s code enforcement office in recent sweeps, tickets for everything, weathered frontages, illegal fences, unmaintained properties, and unapproved carports .

Now the neighbors feel targeted and see their problems as more than battles with overzealous code officers. They believe the city is culturally insensitive for not recognizing the touchstones of Guyanese and West Indian culture and rejects the exact type of residents they have long courted, those in owner-occupied housing.

“The improvements have a hidden value that they don’t understand,” Miller said. ” He does not seem [the city] it is to recognize or support it.

James and Natasha Sauers built their rear carport in 2014 to provide their young family with a haven from crime and speeding, as well as a place to relax and celebrate everything from birthdays to birthdays.

“It’s our culture,” Natasha told a pair of cops who stopped by Sunday to listen to their grievances.

And in a neighborhood where parking space is limited, the extra space for their fleet of four vehicles was a plus, and one that helps them bypass alternative parking regulations that residents deem outdated and arbitrarily enforced.

The Sauers were only recently tagged, although the structure did not need approval when it was built. A new rule now requires these structures to get city approval, and owners must request that existing carports be protected.

“The West Indians come to help, improve and develop the neighborhood,” says James. “This is the American dream: work hard, then enjoy it. “

Miller said the streets are being punished for long-standing systemic and structural inequalities that are beyond their control.

On the one hand, the two-family homes were built to accommodate General Electric workers, which was reflected in the parking designation on the alternative side. But many in the neighborhood have irregular hours, including in the medical sector, meaning the waves of parking tickets are arbitrary, a concern that has been expressed in other neighborhoods as well.

Narrow plots and driveways from the street would not be approved under contemporary zoning bylaws, Miller said.

“You apply violations that you yourself say are not livable,” Miller said.

Caribbean families also tend to have multigenerational households. More occupants means more vehicles, and there simply aren’t enough parking spaces to accommodate everyone, especially during severe winter storms.

Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn said Lincoln Avenue was not specifically targeted and the sweeps were part of a city-wide systems approach to bring properties into compliance.

“It’s just one of many streets we’ve come down to and done the same for,” Lunn said. “It’s the start of a city’s decline if these things aren’t addressed quickly.”

About 95% of homes in the neighborhood do not comply with the city’s homeowner registration process, he said. Even though many are owner-occupied, two-family homes housing multigenerational families still require their owners to register as owners.

This triggers an annual visit by an inspector to examine a building’s exterior, a brief examination designed to prevent further deterioration.

“It hadn’t been done for quite some time,” Lunn said. “It really tries to maintain the upkeep of the city and to maintain the standards of the city. ”

Paving lawns also disrupts water runoff and can impact neighboring properties, he said.

There is a widespread feeling in the neighborhood that ethnicity plays a role.

“They are targeting the Guyanese community and it’s ridiculous,” said Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, which helped organize a meeting between residents and city officials earlier this month.

Lunn denied that the app was ethnicity-based and noted that he had Guyanese on his staff who write the posts themselves.

And to further exacerbate the tensions, residents believe that while they improve the neighborhood, the city doesn’t reciprocate, and many of the damages they are cited for are the result of poor city maintenance of everything. , from overgrown trees to the city’s chronic snow removal problems.

The back of the towel arithmetic compiled by residents revealed that if each house paid $ 5,000 in annual property taxes, that equated to half a million dollars a year. Still, they believe they see little way back and contend the city is not doing its part to help improve and improve Lincoln Avenue, especially when it comes to installing speed bumps, replacing sidewalks and paving the rutted street with potholes, which also has drainage issues.

“Instead, we aim to improve our own properties and our living environment,” Miller said. “Anything we try to do to improve makes it worse. “

They are due to meet with a city delegation, including Mayor Gary McCarthy, later this week. They will bring a simple request:

“We want them to partner with us, not penalize us,” Miller said. “Meet us halfway.”


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