Advocates say Rochester still falls short in affordable housing

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Housing advocates in front of the Monroe County Office Building Thursday said they want to change circumstances for people like Justine Harris, a single mother who said she doesn’t feel safe in her own home, and can barely afford it as is.

“It’s a shame, school is getting ready to start, I dont want to be struggling to find suitable housing for my children, because it should already be available for me, because I am a citizen here,” she said. “I’ve been living at 5 Taylor Street for the last two years, my roof is caving in, I have floors rotting, my family does not feel safe and nothing is done.”

Advocates are asking for public feedback on a preliminary proposal they say would address a housing crisis.

Part of it includes local housing vouchers for those with low income.

County Legislator Rachel Barnhart said there are currently federal housing vouchers available, but those are capped.

“Those are vouchers in which people have to pay 30% percent of their income, but there’s a waiting list of thousands of people across the country for these vouchers. Certainly the federal government should do better,” she said.

Also part of the proposal: an increase in funding for emergency housing, and a housing task force made up mostly of people who have been through homelessness.

Michael Daminion knows all too well what that’s like, and has some ideas to bring to the table.

“Fixing up old places that have like broken windows, cardboard or whatever, fix them up that would help instead of keep building housing, why not use the housing that we have,” said Daminion.

As rent rates climb in Rochester, advocates say more needs to be done to help those who can’t afford them. The goal is to avoid homelessness altogether. The question is, what’s it going to take to do that?

One thing local officials are trying to do is redevelop public housing that already exists and supply it with supportive services.

New York State is building or renovating 53 energy-efficient homes for families across 25 locations, primarily in Rochester’s Beechwood neighborhood. The $27 million project broke ground Thursday.

“Why Beechwood is really more of a choice of the Rochester Housing Authority. They had this investment. They felt that this facility was antiquated and not serving citizens’ needs so they proposed to redevelop and we agreed to finance what they wanted to accomplish,” Leonard Skrill, assistant commissioner at New York State Homes and Community Renewal.

In Beechwood, eight buildings at the Rochester Housing Authority’s Federal Street property will be demolished to make way for two low-rise multi-family buildings and a single-family home. The project includes support services for people with a criminal justice history who are experiencing homelessness.

Homes will be a mix of two, three, and four bedrooms. According to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, they will be “affordable to households earning between 30 and 90 percent of the Area Median Income,” or between approximately $12,000 to $36,000.

Rental subsidies and services will be funded through the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

The state is financing more than 80 percent of the project, which is expected to be completed by late 2024 or 2025.