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RISMEDIA, Sept. 25, 2007-(MCT)-From the time he was a teenager, Eric Dahl knew he wanted to help revitalize vacant and dilapidated homes in inner-city neighborhoods.

Convinced that architects were the catalyst behind such a change, the Cincinnati native went to Cornell University to study architecture. But after two years of “sculpting space and light,” he realized architecture wasn’t his calling. He switched to urban planning and never looked back.Dahl, 39, has a resume filled with jobs at nonprofit housing agencies. He is manager of Community Realty in Albany, the state’s only nonprofit real estate firm, which works primarily with first-time buyers. Previously, he worked at Better Neighborhoods Inc. in Schenectady.

He lives in Niskayuna with his wife, Roslyn, and two children.

Q: What is it like working as a real estate broker?
“For me, having worked with first-time home buyers for ages, it was very exciting to finally be involved not on the fringe of getting people ready to be homeowners, but to be in the heart of finding the right house and competing in a marketplace that isn’t always friendly to first-time home buyers.”

Q: What’s it like working with first-time home buyers?
“It’s very rewarding. Community Realty works with a broad range of home buyers but mostly first-time home buyers of any income. So, some of our clients have financial constraints, and others are just looking for good advice on purchasing a home from somebody who is not in it to sell a house, but in it for the service of helping someone succeed.”

Q: How has the market changed over the years?
“It’s still a very good market for home buyers, but much less affordable than even five years ago. I remember working at Better Neighborhoods and our standard line was ‘Why rent when you can buy a house? It’s even cheaper to buy.’ And in a lot of cases, it was. Today, it’s just not the case. It’s much harder to get in the market.”

Q: What is your vision for affordable housing and neighborhoods?
“Neighborhoods throughout the Capital District have become increasing segregated — physically, socially and economically. My vision embraces a mixed-use, mixed-income approach to creating quality, affordable neighborhoods which benefit people and sustain a prosperous region. That’s why Community Realty serves all home buyers in all areas, but with a focus on building healthy, sustainable neighborhoods.”

Q: What are the challenges?
“I don’t think we’ve paid nearly enough attention to affordable housing and community development as public issues. If you are in the field, you are familiar with them. But in the public consciousness, I think less so. Maybe it’s increasing now that people realize that it’s harder for kids who grew up in our community to buy a house. They can’t afford to live in their parents’ own neighborhood.”

Q: How did Community Realty come into existence?
“In 2003, the Capital District Homeownership Collaborative launched a business planning project to identify what we were doing well and what we weren’t doing well. What the group decided was there was not only a need but a great opportunity to start a buyer brokerage that addressed that key piece of the home-buying process.
“Sure, we were helping home buyers get ready and enter the marketplace, but let’s help them find a house and do it with affordable financing instead of subprime financing, and help them negotiate a good, fair price with an eye to special programs that might help them succeed.”

Q: How many homes have you helped purchase?
“Since January 2005, we have closed 60 transactions and many more are in the pipeline. The homes are throughout the Capital District, but 50% are in Albany. We’ve had some tremendous success with tenants buying their current apartment building.

“Think about the impact of that. You’ve got a renter who is now a homeowner. You’ve got an absentee-homeowner property that is now owner-occupied, which is good for the neighborhood. And nobody has moved.”

Q: What are your goals for the next five or 10 years?
“Our immediate goal for Community Realty is to be self-sustaining by the end of 2008.”

Q: You were warning people about the subprime market since the 1990s, no?
“Like a broken record. It made it easy for people to get in way over their head and make homeownership not an opportunity like it should be but a nightmare for some people.

“At Community Realty, all of our clients use prime financing. If they are not quite ready because of trouble with credit or job history, we advise them to get those things taken care of because in the long run, they will be a lot better off.”

Q: What are you and your housing partners planning next?
“We’ve been actively promoting employer-assisted homeownership. We would like to find a way to provide a package that employers could roll out to their employees. For the employer, it increases loyalty of the work force, it reduces turnover and it strengthens the neighborhood around their location. For the employees, it makes it easier to purchase a house for the first time.”

Q: What keeps you motivated?
“I like to make a difference and I like to see people succeed. It’s very gratifying.”

Q: What do you do to relax?
“I love the outdoors. Sailing, hiking, biking and jumping off a sailboat with the kids.”

Copyright © 2007, Albany Times Union, N.Y.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.