A right way to do business

After the fiasco that was Cutliff Grove and one looming over the horizon in the form of the non-existent University Gardens, it’s understandable that the idea of public/private partnerships for low- to moderate-income housing developments is unpopular with a lot of Albany taxpayers right now.

Then, you see a development like Southlake that is, by all indications, a successful marrying of public and private funds that functions just like it is supposed to.

On Thursday, public officials and private developers involved in the three-phase Southlake development cut the ribbon on the final phase of the development. More than $21 million was invested in the project, and the units have been leased out.

So, not only is this development providing needed housing for Albany residents, it will be a contributor to the city’s coffers to the tune of $135,000 to $165,000 a year in property taxes.

This is a case where everyone wins. The federal money involved is used for its purpose — to provide lower income citizens with good housing. The private developers have a successful property. The city of Albany has residents in better housing and will see yearly returns on the investment.

That is how it should work.

So, how is it that Vantage Group managed to pull this development together through the heart of the nation’s deepest recession, while Cutliff Grove cost the city $364,000 in money it had to repay HUD and University Gardens could leave the city liable for a half-million dollars more?

We have to believe it’s because of the quality of the organization that the city was working with.

Vantage Group knew what it was doing and was competent in its work. Company officials did their homework and worked with city and other public officials to keep things moving ahead. The company also had its own investment in the project, rather than playing with “house money.”

What this tells us is that the city needs to make sure it does its homework on the organizations it partners with, and that it’s better to “lose” federal funds than to waste them away in a bad partnership because you had to beat a deadline for using them. And any organization that gets into a housing development agreement with the city should have a significant investment at risk in the project.

“This development only came to fruition through a team effort at the local, state, federal and private level,” Paul Robinson, an official with the Vantage Group, said Thursday. “The teamwork here was staggering and, in the end, we’ve rehabilitated a blighted neighborhood and have provided homes to those who need them.”

And it has made an improvement in Albany, while also providing an example of how private-public partnerships should work.