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Urban League of Rochester Unveils Affordable Homeownership Program

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Sara Sheppard, who lives on Milton Street, is part of the Urban League of Rochester’s lease to purchase program. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Sara Sheppard’s rent is lower than it has been anywhere else she’s lived since coming from Georgia to Rochester 10 years ago.

Her place on Milton Street in the 19th Ward is new, and what she pays each month is going toward helping her buy the home in 15 years.

“This is more stability for me and safety for my children,” said Sheppard, who had been moving every couple of years. “I’m loving it. Why wouldn’t I?”

Sheppard and her children are among the first families in the Urban League of Rochester’s lease to purchase program, which is creating affordable housing.

Sheppard moved into her home earlier in July, and the Urban League formally announced lease to purchase at a news conference July 26 in front of a soon-to-be-occupied home at 33 Elgin Street.

“It’s a delight to see the smiles on people’s faces when they see that investment is being made in their neighborhood,” said Mayor Lovely Warren, who recognized several friends and relatives in the crowd that gathered in front of the house. “… Seeing the neighborhood come back is something all our residents want to see.”

A second house at the other end of the block is nearly done, both part of a $13 million investment to build 41 houses in the southwest quadrant. The funding comes from the state of New York, and Leviticus Fund, Rochester Land Bank and ESL.

In addition to stability for families, the L2P Westside program is designed to create generational wealth through home ownership. “Many people and many families don’t have the opportunity to own their own home because they don’t have the income,” Warren said. “They cannot get their credit in line. But what this project does is give people an opportunity to lease to own.”

Seanelle Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Rochester. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Seanelle Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Rochester, acknowledged that rent to own programs can be challenging. L2P Westside was developed by the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corporation and based on the Cleveland Housing Network that has developed 2,000 affordable homes.

“We’ve followed a model that has been tried and tested,” said Hawkins. “They’re partnering with us. They’re guiding us along the way … and we’re not making the same mistakes they made when they did it.”

Qualified tenants must have incomes at or below 60% of the area median, which is $36,720 for a two-person household and $45,840 for a four-person household.

Monthly rents are between $670 and $795, plus utilities. The initial plan has 34 three-bedroom houses with full basements and seven ranch homes built on slabs

There is a 15-year rental compliance period, after which the tenant may purchase the house provided they meet eligibility requirements that include completion of financial counseling and home maintenance training. During the rental period, residents have to provide basic maintenance of the structure and yard and participate in the counseling and maintenance training.

Equity from tax credits applied to the cost of construction is transferred to the homeowner when the house is sold at a substantially discounted price.

Hawkins said the initial 41 houses have been spoken for, and she hoped they are occupied by the end of the year. The Urban League is starting a waiting list for the second phase of building. For information, go to www.ulr.org and click on the “housing” tab and scroll to L2P application, or call (585) 262-6210.