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Homeownership Highlight of Mayor’s 2nd Episode of State of the City

By Tyronda James
tyrondajames@minorityreporter.net

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren releases chapter two of the 2021 State of the City, discussing the Housing First Trust Fund as part of her Equity & Recovery Agenda. Photo screenshot from City of Gov. YouTube video.

Mayor Lovely Warren released chapter two of the 2021 State of the City, discussing the Housing First Trust Fund as part of her Equity & Recovery Agenda (ERA). 

The proposal intends to address historic racism and inequity in Rochester’s housing market by increasing city resident homeownership. 

“For many years we act like racism didn’t exist,” said Warren. “Even though policies, procedures, laws  were embedded in racism.”

The fund will provide affordable housing units, emergency assistance to renters and support a dedicated housing court. The proposed trust fund would build on Rochester’s successful creation of 3,800 affordable homes for over 9,000 residents over the past seven years.

“While Housing First has traditionally referred to helping our homeless, I believe that a safe, affordable and sustainable home is the first, and most critical step to achieving equity for all. Hence, the Housing First Trust Fund,” said Warren. 

“If we want Rochester’s families and children to be successful in their careers and education, then they must first have the security that a home provides. Lifting people up starts with ensuring they have a place to call home.”

Warren said funding will help Rochester’s residents achieve equity and fairness by creating more jobs; safer, more vibrant neighborhoods and greater educational opportunities. She said she looks forward to working with city council and local state Legislature delegation to make it a reality.

According to city officials, the Housing Fund would “dedicate a revenue source to fund efforts to improve residents’ access to stable, affordable and quality housing,”potential goals include:

  • Provide funding to the Rochester Land Bank to acquire higher-quality properties for owner occupancy programs.
  • Work with the renters of two-family homes to help them acquire the property, become owners and accelerate their financial growth to stabilize city neighborhoods.
  • Allow the Land Bank to offer properties directly to residents seeking to buy a home without them having to competitively bid against investors.
  • Provide new owner-occupants with $24,999 rehabilitation grants, as well as financial literacy and financial planning assistance to ensure long-term stability and wealth building.
  • Strengthen neighborhoods by offering any City-owned tax lien acquisitions via lottery for one dollar to residents on the same street. This would allow homeowners to build wealth and strengthen stability of city neighborhoods. Owners of these properties would be eligible for rehabilitation grants and other services to ensure the creation of safe and affordable rental properties.
  • Expand emergency-based debt and rent relief to qualifying residents. This will help prevent evictions and foreclosures and stop temporary financial crises from becoming negatively life-altering events.
  • Reduce owner and tenant utility costs by making energy efficiency improvements in newly constructed or renovated housing for low-income residents.
  • Fund supportive services within housing court to help families overcome problems related to eviction.

This series also focused on the Urban League of Rochester’s Lease to Purchase Program and the city’s Core Housing Owner Incentive Exemption, or CHOICE program.

Warren says Urban League’s unique project would allow families without the ability to make large down payments to achieve home ownership and build wealth. The CHOICE program, once expanded, will allow homeowners to benefit from tax incentives that before only benefitted big developers.

“When we talk about dismantling systemic racism, this is what we’re talking about,” said Seannelle Hawkins, president & CEO of Urban league of Rochester, N.Y. Inc. “Dismantling…where these systems are against you… where these systems are designed.” 

The video also highlighted the need for equitable marijuana legalization to ensure a dedicated funding stream and lifting up those most oppressed by its criminalization.

“Cities and neighborhoods most impacted and devastated by the criminalization and sale of illegal drugs should directly benefit from the taxation of marijuana,” Warren said. Warren said she continues to urge the State Legislature to dedicate monies to the City of Rochester, so the Housing First Trust Fund can be set up to help the most vulnerable residents achieve their dreams.

Another State of the City video is slated to be released in March, focusing on economic development and employment. Previous videos and additional information can be found at cityofrochester.gov/SOTC2021

“If we don’t continue to support affordable housing, homeownership, we remain the same,” Hawkins said.