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Mayor Wants to Boost Homeownership as Part of Reparations Program

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Mayor Lovely Warren is asking leading community and philanthropic organizations that have a presence in the city and the county to form a committee on what a program of reparations would look like in Rochester.

Warren sent a letter on March 25 to the leadership of City Council and agencies and organizations that include the Urban League, United Way, Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Action for a Better Community, Ibero American Action League YMCA of Greater Rochester, ESL, Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Faith Roundtable.

The mayor cited the report from the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), that highlighted disparities in the wealth gap between minority and white families. She said the prospect of marijuana legalization brings “real resources to bear to uplift our families and improve, not just their financial wellbeing, but their very future.”

“ … (A)mong the best and most sustainable ways to achieve these goals is through the payment of reparations with the establishment of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program, or through a home ownership program,” she wrote.

Warren wants the committee to be seated in April and have it review existing programs in other communities and make recommendations for next steps. She mentioned Oakland, California, and Evanston, Illinois, as cities that began universal basic income programs. No deadline for a report was given in the news release March 26 that announced the initiative.

Jennifer Leonard, president and chief executive officer of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, wrote in a prepared statement that she looked forward to more information about the city’s proposal “and will give it serious consideration.”

She wrote that the Community Foundation supported the RASE Commission and welcomed continued nonpartisan review of strategies to address historic racial inequities and poverty in our community. “As members of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), we have already endorsed an effort to engage more employers in adopting the $15 living wage. We look forward to working together with the city, county, RMAPI and our own ACT Rochester in continued collaboration.”

Housing was one of nine areas examined by the RASE commission, which was convened in June by the city and Monroe County and issued a 284-page report in March.

The group’s research found the homeownership rate among White residents of Monroe County was 71% and less than half that for Black and Latino residents. It said lower home lending rates to Blacks all play a role in maintaining segregation, which has profound implications for opportunity and equity. It reported that homeownership is the most common transfer of wealth across generations.

The work group identified strategies from individual, institutional and structural perspectives to achieve equitable access to housing/home ownership throughout the county and considered ideas.

“If we think about access to homeownership as an example, an individually focused intervention would be increasing knowledge of homebuyer assistance programs for those in need,” the report said. “Interventions at the institutional level change policies or practices of organizations. Following our example, an institutional intervention for low levels of homeownership among a racial group would be changing policies and practices within a bank to increase lending to members of that group. Structural interventions work to achieve change across institutions, focusing at the system level. In this example, the structural intervention could be increasing legal requirements and enforcement of them to ensure fair lending practices across lenders.”

The RASE commission focused on structural interventions.

It’s not clear where the mayor’s committee would focus, but her letter does mention a home ownership program.

As for funds to pay for any programs, the mayor wrote, “With the legalization of marijuana on the horizon, we have the ability to enact legislation locally to make the concept of reparations through a UBI and home ownership a reality for Rochester and its families.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his arguments for legalization, said it “provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

Legislators have been working on how the tax revenue would be split between the state and municipalities.

Here is the mayor’s letter, which went to the principals of all the organizations:

The recent report by the RASE Commission made plain the stark realities that exist in our community and made a strong call for all of us to take action to address these historic inequities. It also highlighted that the 25th Congressional District is one of the worst for Black and Brown people. Beyond changing policies and procedures, we must do more to close the wealth gap between Black and Brown people and our White residents. With marijuana legalization on the horizon in New York, we have an opportunity we never had before to bring real resources to bear to uplift our families and improve, not just their financial wellbeing, but their very future.

I believe that among the best and most sustainable ways to achieve these goals is through the payment of reparations with the establishment of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program, or through a home ownership program.

Therefore, I am humbly requesting that you provide a representative to work with my Chief of Staff, Brittaney Wells, and our Chief Equity Officer, Dr. Cephas Archie, to explore these concepts and develop a fair and equitable plan for funding and implementation. I understand the magnitude of this undertaking and know that it will take the support of not just the City, but our government, business, non-profit and community partners to achieve. That is why I am calling upon you to join us in this effort.

The exploratory committee will be charged with reviewing the UBI and reparation pilots in other cities to determine how we could develop this life-altering program for Rochester, and possibly a City-sponsored home ownership mortgage program. These other cities can serve as examples and provide data to support the creation of these initiatives in our city. Just this week, Oakland, CA and Evanston, IL adopted legislation to begin similar programs in their cities. It is also important to note that historically the concept of a UBI has had wide support including from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Richard Nixon.

We should not let this moment pass us by. With the legalization of marijuana on the horizon, we have the ability to enact legislation locally to make the concept of reparations through a UBI and home ownership a reality for Rochester and its families. To this end, I hope you will join our effort to shape this initiative to finally resolve the historic inequities that exist in our community.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Ms. Wells will follow up with you directly regarding your participation. I appreciate your continued dedication to lifting up all the people of Rochester.

Sincerely,

Lovely A. Warren

Mayor