If New York legalizes adult recreational use of marijuana, Mayor Lovely Warren wants a chunk of the tax revenue to fund equity initiatives in Rochester.
She is proposing two such initiatives in her Equity & Recovery Agenda (ERA), unveiled Jan. 7 in her State of the City address.
The agenda presents a blueprint for equity, and the building blocks are based on initiatives that improve access to affordable housing, reducing violence and reforming the police department, education and employment/entrepreneurship, welcoming newcomers and supporting diverse voices in art.
The items aren’t either/or.
“For me, it’s not about what I have to give up or what this community has to give up,” Warren said in an interview. “Our thing is about not providing 99 reasons why we can’t do something but figuring out the one way we can get it done.”
She said the projects go hand in hand and she said they can be done at the same time. “It’s about not looking at all the challenges that will prevent you from doing them but how do you work together to ensure we can do it and put it in place ….”
Warren is proposing that taxes from legalized marijuana be used to revitalize challenged neighborhoods. The agenda calls for marijuana taxes to help fund a Housing First Trust Fund to stabilize families and neighborhoods, and the ERA Emergency Fund to help families over rough spots like ones encountered by many during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warren also is proposing that tax-exempt entities such as the University of Rochester and non-profit organizations support the housing and emergency funds.
“… I understand that these sources of revenue are controversial to some,” she wrote in her report. “Yet, what they really require is the support, understanding, and most importantly, empathy of the leadership of these organizations and our State government. Delivering equity requires a genuine commitment to sacrifice in order to repair the damage that has been done.”
The State of City was released as a document and a video, which can be viewed at cityofrochester.gov/sotc2021 or on the city’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
Both begin with the history of Rochester’s segregation and racism, the legacy of generations of public- and private-sector policies. Writing that the past no longer can be prologue, Warren lays out an agenda that confronts the root of inequities in four areas: housing, police and criminal justice, jobs and education.
The goal is to “build a just and equitable community for everyone,” she wrote. “We will be the City that shows our nation that policing can change and respect the needs of the people it serves while keeping our community safe. We will be the City that shows that a “housing first” agenda can lift people out of poverty. We will be the City that makes our schools the heart of our neighborhoods. We will be the City that values our newest Americans and supports our artists and expresses our creativity. We will be the City that creates a path to equity.
Warren is clear that the plan will need the cooperation of other government entities as well as nonprofits and advocates. The marijuana revenue isn’t guaranteed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will revisit legalization and the fact that the state needs the revenue because of losses from the pandemic means it’s likely to happen. However, the money could go into the general fund and not be earmarked at all for particular priorities.
Warren wrote that the agenda “is my sincere effort to create pathways to justice.”
Unlike state and federal government officials, there is little she can do by executive fiat. Most of the agenda will need to go before City Council as well as get buy-in from nongovernmental agencies.
“I welcome the discussions and additional ideas that these proposals will inspire,” she wrote. “I truly hope that my fellow elected officials, community and faith leaders and residents will embrace this opportunity.”
Here is a summary of the Equity & Recovery Agenda:
The Housing First Trust Fund is needed because many single-person households pay more than 30% of their income on rent and many families lack access to financing or the savings to buy a home. Among other things, the fund would work with renters of two-family houses to help them buy the property; enhance the role of the Rochester Land Bank, offer grants to new owner-occupants, make energy-efficient improvements and bolster housing court.
“Look at what matters most to people, and that is a stable foundation,” she said. “A stable foundation starts with having a stable home. And access to a stable home.”
The ERA Emergency Fund would prevent families from falling into poverty. It would provide grants of up to $2,000 to help people over a temporary crisis. Warren said she would convene a working group from the city, state, county and federal governments, nonprofits and others who could help design the program.
Warren is proposing a Neighborhood Safety Task Force to be chaired by the deputy mayor to identify and evaluate all violence prevention efforts to determine how best to coordinate their management under a new Office of Neighborhood Safety. The task force also would work with existing efforts to meet Cuomo’s order to reimagine policing.
The mayor previously proposed requiring all newly hired Rochester Police Department officers to live in the city.
The city is working on a pilot program to deploy crisis response teams to 911 calls prompted by mental health and addiction.
Bolstering neighborhood elementary schools
State monitor Shelley Jallow has recommended that every elementary school be a neighborhood school and required a feasibility plan by May. Warren would like every elementary school to be a community school with services from the city, county and community partners.
The ERA proposes an increase in the percentage of minority-owned and women-owned businesses in public works construction. She also is asking trade unions to increase apprenticeships for city residents, with preference for Black, Latino, female and non-binary residents.
The agenda also calls for a $15 minimum wage for health aides and nursing assistants.
RocCity HomeGrown would streamline access to available city land for farming. The proposals would create entrepreneurs and serve residents who lack access to fresh, nutritious food.
Warren is proposing an Arts Equity Fund, committing 1% from every capital project for infrastructure that totals more than $1 million. The fund is estimated to reap hundreds of thousands each year that can help support local artists in every quadrant. The art could include sculptures, performances or writing.