Consumer Alert: Rochester’s housing quality shows some improvement, but problems remain

Consumer Alert: Rochester’s Housing Crisis

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rochester’s housing crisis is an issue News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry has been investigating for two years.

Mayor Malik Evans tackled it by forming a Housing Quality Task Force to study the problem and make recommendations. He held a news conference Wednesday about the progress.

There have been big picture improvements: new updated code enforcement policies, stiffer fines, and the City is now taking bad landlords to court. The City has also hired more code inspectors: something sorely needed.

But there are still problems – big problems – as evidenced by a renter Dewberry spoke to Thursday afternoon.

News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry: “Just last week we were in the teens. What did you all do for heat?”

Cathy, renter: “At first we went to the emergency shelter for two days and then we came back here and did what we could to stay warm: hoodies, hats, coats, blankets.”

News10NBC is disguising her identity because she’s a victim of domestic violence. While Cathy and her four kids have now escaped the cruel hand of someone she once loved, they can not escape the cruelty of poverty.

Dewberry: “How long have you been here?”

Cathy: “About a year.”

Dewberry: “And have you had heat any time during that year?”

Cathy: “No.”

Dewberry: “So the heat has never worked.”

Her broken thermostat is useless. She relies instead on space heaters. The one she showed News10NBC Wednesday showed 49 degrees – just 7 degrees warmer than it is outside.

The water was just as cold. That’s because she says the hot water heater broke almost three weeks ago and in the bathroom, the hole in the ceiling isn’t her biggest problem.

Flushing her toilet is the major problem.

That’s because raw sewage pours into her basement from a broken pipe onto the floor, filling the basement with the contents of the toilet.

“We can do all these things, but if we don’t have good enforcement for people who are bad actors, it won’t make a difference,” Mayor Malik Evans said.

He held a saber-toothed tiger, symbolic of the teeth he says code enforcement policy now has. He pointed to the fact that the City now has a dedicated housing attorney who is taking bad landlords to court.

“Since my saber-toothed tiger started, he’s brought 36 cases and 36 cases isn’t 36 properties. It’s 89 properties,” Patrick Beath, corporation counsel for the City of Rochester.

Bad landlords with multiple properties who together owned more than 500 units. But what about landlords like Cathy’s? His advice:

“The ideal step to take anytime is to call the Neighborhood Service Center,” Beath said.

Cathy: “I contacted the city three months ago, four months ago now. They came out. They took pictures. They said they would contact the landlord, and if he didn’t answer they’d kind of, like, take care of it. But nothing.”

She says she’s been back twice more and was told the City would make repairs, but had no timetable.

Dewberry: “When the City says we are coming down on those landlords – ‘We have saber-toothed tiger teeth, We’re going to enforce the codes’ – You say what to that?”

Cathy: “I say it’s bullcrap. I’m sure I’m not the only family out here living with these types of conditions.”

News10NBC reached out to the City of Rochester for a response. According to a spokesman, the City requested bids, but the job has taken longer than expected because the scope of the work has changed. Cathy’s story demonstrates some of the challenges the City faces: old housing stock. Cathy’s house was built in the mid-1800s. And there’s not enough resources to make repairs when landlords won’t.

If you face a situation like Cathy’s, the City urges you to call 311 and respond to follow-up calls from the City.