City releases plan for nuisance properties, absentee landlords – Democrat & Chronicle

City releases plan for nuisance properties, absentee landlords

by: Briank Sharp

Efforts aimed at increasing landlord accountability are at the center of a renewed city effort to crack down on unkept or unruly properties.

Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council member Jackie Ortiz outlined the latest actions during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.

Efforts aimed at increasing landlord accountability are at the center of a renewed city effort to crack down on unkept or unruly properties.

Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council member Jackie Ortiz outlined the latest actions during a news conference Wednesday at City Hall.

Landlords could soon be required to provide publicly-available contact information. And the city has bolstered its efforts to publicize code violations and enforcement actions online.

The toughest actions might still be to come. But a court case out of Tompkins County has put those measures on hold, for now.

Rochester’s nuisance abatement program dates at least to 1985. It was overhauled in the mid- to late-1990s, when officials amended city code to specify 35 nuisance categories, created a point system and established thresholds for action; the ultimate penalty being closure.

Enforcement has varied, including an effort to tighten regulation of corner stores that the city dismantled after portions of the law were struck down in courts and by the state.

Last year, the city began a full program review, with help from the consultant firm of former Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. A final report delivered in June suggests changing how and what violations are counted and opens the door to penalizing tenants and lessees.

 The latest snag comes from a June decision of the New York state Supreme Court’s appellate division, striking down the nuisance abatement laws in the village of Groton, Tompkins County. In a separate case before the state Supreme Court challenging Rochester’s program, city officials have been asked to respond to how the Groton ruling affects matters here.

“We don’t want to put some (added) step in place and have it ruled unconstitutional,” Warren said.

For now, the city might bolster a landlord registry already requiring building owners to provide the city with contact information to also require a business phone for either themselves or a local property manager that can be accessible to neighbors.

City Council will consider legislation on that matter later this month.

“We have heard too many times, ‘I wish I knew what was going on … I wish I knew who to call'” about a problem property, Ortiz said, noting that the use of LLCs and PO boxes often shield landlords’ identities from public view. “Although logistically (this is) a simple change, I believe it will be a powerful one.”

The city also began posting code violation information to the property portal of its website last year and recently nuisance data and created a “Nuisance Points Map” to highlight chronic offenders throughout the city.

The toughest actions might still be to come. But a court case out of Tompkins County has put those measures on hold, for now.

Rochester’s nuisance abatement program dates at least to 1985. It was overhauled in the mid- to late-1990s, when officials amended city code to specify 35 nuisance categories, created a point system and established thresholds for action; the ultimate penalty being closure.

Enforcement has varied, including an effort to tighten regulation of corner stores that the city dismantled after portions of the law were struck down in courts and by the state.

Last year, the city began a full program review, with help from the consultant firm of former Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. A final report delivered in June suggests changing how and what violations are counted and opens the door to penalizing tenants and lessees.

 The latest snag comes from a June decision of the New York state Supreme Court’s appellate division, striking down the nuisance abatement laws in the village of Groton, Tompkins County. In a separate case before the state Supreme Court challenging Rochester’s program, city officials have been asked to respond to how the Groton ruling affects matters here.

“We don’t want to put some (added) step in place and have it ruled unconstitutional,” Warren said.

For now, the city might bolster a landlord registry already requiring building owners to provide the city with contact information to also require a business phone for either themselves or a local property manager that can be accessible to neighbors.

City Council will consider legislation on that matter later this month.

“We have heard too many times, ‘I wish I knew what was going on … I wish I knew who to call'” about a problem property, Ortiz said, noting that the use of LLCs and PO boxes often shield landlords’ identities from public view. “Although logistically (this is) a simple change, I believe it will be a powerful one.”

The city also began posting code violation information to the property portal of its website last year and recently nuisance data and created a “Nuisance Points Map” to highlight chronic offenders throughout the city.

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NY to spend $7.3M on college-in-prison program – Democrat & Chronicle

NY to spend $7.3M on college-in-prison program

by: Jon Campbell

ALBANY – New York will spend $7.3 million from bank settlements to expand college education programs in prisons, including the Albion Correctional Facility in Orleans County.

Seven colleges will begin, continue or expand offerings for prisoners at 17 correctional facilities across New York over the next five years as part of the College-in-Prison Re-Entry Program, a joint program between Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

Cuomo and Vance unveiled the colleges and prisons plan Monday.

Among them are Medaille College, based in Buffalo, which will continue its program at Albion, which launched in 2008. Cornell University, meanwhile, will be active in four correctional facilities, including Five Points in Seneca County.

In all, there will 400 to 500 new seats each year for college-education programs in state prisons, according to Cuomo’s office.

“It has never been more evident that a college education is an important stepping stone to success and by partnering with District Attorney Vance, that success will reach those who never thought they could achieve it,” Cuomo said in a statement.

 Cuomo first proposed spending public dollars to provide prisoners a free college education in 2014, pointing to studies that show lower recidivism rates among inmates who receive an education.

He was immediately met with a wave of backlash from conservatives and college students, who questioned the state covering costs for inmates at a time when expenses were rising for non-inmate students.

Last year, Cuomo and Vance came up with a compromise: Vance’s office provided more than $7 million recovered from settlements with large banks to fund a scaled-back program.

Some colleges — including Cornell and Medaille — already offered college courses to prisoners, though those initiatives were funded by foundations and other private donors. Statewide, about 1,000 prisoners currently take college-level courses, according to the state.

 Along with Cornell and Medaille, the other participating colleges in the state’s program are Mercy College, Bard College, New York University, Mohawk Valley Community College and Jefferson Community College.

The state’s program will only be open to prisoners with less than five years left on their sentence.

“We’ll hopefully equip them with very important skills that will enrich their lives once they’re on the outside and create a tool that will help them avoid returning to prison,” said Robert Eap, academic director of Cornell’s prison program.

Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, said he’s supportive of offering higher-education courses to prisoners.

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Under Construction: Get an inside look at construction on the old McCrory’s building – Democrat & Chronicle

Under Construction: Get an inside look at construction on the old McCrory’s building

by: Brian Sharp

Signs on the wall still proclaimed “Low, low prices everyday!” or directed visitors to domestics, hardware, housewares and pets in the basement. Intricate tilework was revealed behind drywall. And a new view of downtown opened up as the bricked-over face of the building was torn away.

On Tuesday, we plan to take you inside 200 E. Main St., for the first installment in our Under Construction live tour of downtown construction projects. Project developers will lead the walk-throughs, explaining their plans and taking viewer questions.

Head over to the D&C Facebook page at 11:30 a.m.Tuesday.

Future visits will provide a look inside Sibley Square, and a walk along the East Main Street improvement project.

At 200 E. Main St., plans are for the Social Security Administration to fill the upper floors, while the city’s Municipal Parking and newly formed Traffic Violations Agency (traffic court) will take the basement, leaving the street level for a yet-to-be-determined use.

“We are going to wait and see what the market does for a little bit, see what turns up next spring,” said developer Lewis Norry.

City Council is considering a 20-year lease with optional renewals. The first-year lease payment would be $195,000, and build out of the space is projected at $1.2 million. Together, the city and federal offices could bring more than 750 people per day to the building, Mayor Lovely Warren wrote in a memo to City Council.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/08/07/under-construction-go-inside-old-mccrorys-building-east-main/544690001/

Henrietta woman fights foreclosure to keep her house and wins – Democrat & Chronicle

Henrietta woman fights foreclosure to keep her house and wins

by: Erica Bryant

Some think that banks don’t have to help homeowners who have fallen on hard times.  “A bank isn’t a social agency,” one reader said in an email after last week’s column about a woman who is fighting foreclosure. “If the customer can’t pay, they take the house.”

Actually, the law requires banks to make a number of specific efforts to help homeowners keep their property. More people need to know their rights, and that there are free resources to help protect them.

Just ask Jean S. Blattner, a Henrietta woman who recently received a mortgage modification that will allow her to keep her home. It took four years, more than a dozen court appearances, many tears and two local non-profit organizations to accomplish this.

Blattner bought a house on Fawn Ridge Road for $125,000 in 2005. She says she never missed a payment until she was laid off from her job as a purchasing agent in 2013. Money was tight and she didn’t pay her mortgage in March and April of 2013.  Shortly after, she got a letter from U.S. Bank, which had purchased her mortgage, saying that she was in danger of losing her home.

 At first, she tried to navigate on her own, which meant sitting on the phone for hours and being transferred again and again to different bank employees who couldn’t help her. U.S. Bank sent her different letters demanding different amounts of money.  When she sent checks towards her debt, U.S. Bank returned them. “They wouldn’t take a nickel,” she said.  After seven months of getting nowhere, she was in panic.

At the unemployment insurance office, Blattner had seen a flier offering free housing counseling services through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She called the Housing Council, which hosts HUD counseling services, and was connected with foreclosure prevention counselor Christopher Schello. He eventually connected her to Empire Justice Center, where attorney Kevin Purcell took her case.

The foreclosure process can be maddening, even to attorneys who deal with it for a living, Purcell said. But free counseling and legal services can help distressed homeowners avoid certain pitfalls that can hurt a person’s chances of getting a loan modification, extension or lower interest rate. For example, if a mortgage holder asks for your bank statement, you have to send all pages, even if the last page printed is blank. If you don’t mail that blank page, the bank will say that it did not receive the document. It will probably not tell you that you need to send the blank page, so it is likely that you will repeat the mistake.

Average people don’t often have hours in the middle of the day to spend on the phone trying to get through to bank employees who can help them.  Or to deal with lost documents, confusing, incorrect and conflicting requests and other problems.

“People ask all the time ‘are the banks evil?’” said Purcell. “I tend to blame it more on incompetence.” He said that banks have not set up processes that can handle the volume of homeowners who are facing foreclosure. The bank employees who are in charge of delinquent mortgages are often overwhelmed and undertrained.

The problem has been widespread. In 2013, U.S. Bank was among the 10 banks that agreed to pay $8.5 billion dollars in a federal lawsuit because they mishandled foreclosure paperwork and skipped mandated steps in the foreclosure process. The money was probably small comfort to the thousands of people who were unjustly forced to leave their homes, a profoundly traumatic experience.

 Blattner feared this would happen to her and said she often left her court appearances in tears. She credits Schello and Purcell with encouraging her not to give up as the process dragged on, the paperwork piled up and the bank wouldn’t take payments. “I had $20,000 in the bank and they wouldn’t take it,” she said. “I was dumbfounded.”

Meanwhile, bank representatives kept calling to encourage her to accept a short sale of her home. Blattner refused because she didn’t want to lose all she had worked for. “I was proud of the fact that I was a working woman and I put myself through school and I bought myself a home,” she said.

U.S. Bank did not respond to questions about Blattner’s experience before the deadline for this column. But her story has a happy ending. She got a job with Children Awaiting Parents. After 4 years and countless hours of effort, she has reached an agreement with U.S. Bank to modify her loan. Her missed payments will be added to the back end of her mortgage. She has planted new hostas and flowers at the property and sent thank you notes to Schello and Purcell.  She encourages any homeowner who is falling behind on mortgage payments or facing foreclosure to seek help quickly. “You have got to stand your ground,” she said. “I saved my home because of non-profits that supported me.”

Rochester has four HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agencies that offer free foreclosure prevention assistance. For more information call The Housing Council at Pathstone at (585) 546-3700, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester at (585) 546-3440, Marketview Heights Association at (585) 423-1540 or Urban League of Rochester at (585) 325-6530.

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Veterans Outreach Center names new Executive Director, Laura Stradley – whec.com

Veterans Outreach Center names new Executive Director, Laura Stradley

by: Laura Stradley

Laura Stradley has been named the new Executive Director of the Veterans Outreach Center.

Stradley is currently the Director of the Monroe County Veterans Service Agency. She previously worked as a Program Manager at Veterans Outreach Center from 2011-2012.

Since March 2014, Stradley has been on the VOC Board of Directors. She also served for eight years in the United States Army from 1996-2004.

“I have spent countless evenings and weekends advocating for the needs of veterans and I am eager to continue the great work the VOC does every day,” Stradley says. “Having worked in the veteran’s community for more than a decade, I have an unabashed passion for serving my brothers and sisters in arms.”

Stradley was an inductee of the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in 2015, and received the 2017 Vietnam Veterans Chapter 20 (VVA 20) Service Award this past spring.

Executive Director Todd Baxter resigned in April. Judge Patricia Marks is currently serving as Interim Executive Director.

Stradley will begin her role on September 6.

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Housing Council gets local grandmother back on her feet – The Batavian

Housing Council gets local grandmother back on her feet

by: Maria Pericozzi

Marguerite bought her house in Batavia when her first granddaughter was born, to be close to her family and job, but never expected to find herself struggling to keep her house.

“Life happened,”  Marguerite said.

Through the Housing Council at Pathstone, one of New York State’s largest comprehensive housing counseling agencies, she was able to get back on her feet.

In order to protect the privacy of Marguerite and her family, her last name will not be published.

Her troubles started when she had family members in four different locations who were sick. She spent the last five years helping various family members with their financial troubles, as well as being a caregiver and working at the United Memorial Medical Center.

“Things happen in life,”  Marguerite said. “There’s always a reason behind it somewhere. Sometimes we find out and sometimes we don’t.”

Marguerite remembers going at least four days without eating or sleeping, running on adrenaline when her husband was sick. For nine months, she went through the schedule of sleeping for a couple hours a night, then going back to see her husband.

It didn’t take long before she stopped caring for herself and in July of 2012, she physically broke down. She took a medical leave of absence, and shortly after that, her job at United Memorial Medical Center was eliminated.

Prior to her job being eliminated, she had taken $13,000 out of her retirement fund and cashed in two life insurance policies, in an attempt to support herself and other family members.

She had no income, was unable to work, and therefore was unable to make mortgage payments. She said she did everything she could before she decided to get the help she needed.

According to Pathstone’s website, the nonprofit organization provides landlord education, foreclosure prevention, pre-purchase counseling, emergency housing services and fair housing education. The Housing Council is located at 75 College Ave. in Rochester.

When Marguerite  was in trouble with the mortgage company, they recommended the Housing Council.

The Housing Council was incredibly supportive for her as she went through the difficult time. When Marguerite was unable to handle stress due to her physical condition, a lawyer was provided for her through the Housing Council, to represent her in court. Between the Housing Council and her lawyer, she was given the assistance she needed so she would not lose her house.

“There was always such good communication between the Housing Council and the mortgage company,” Marguerite said.

Marguerite said the Housing Council was always very understanding and extremely helpful.

“There were times when I just couldn’t focus enough to handle it myself,” Marguerite said. “Whatever I wouldn’t be able to do, they did for me.”

The Housing Council was also able to assist Marguerite in lower her mortgage interest rate.

Marguerite said this process took away some of her worries about the bank foreclosing on her property.

“I was able to walk away with my dignity and pride,” Marguerite said. “When you’re going through so much, it’s an awful feeling to know that out of your love and dedication for your family, that you’ve made yourself sick and that I might lose everything.”

According to the Housing Council at Pathstone’s website, they helped 1,100 households avoid foreclosure last year.

For Marguerite, her home was the place that allowed her to forget everything that was going on and take a break.

“Sometimes good people find themselves in bad situations,” Marguerite said. “Mine was loved ones getting ready to pass away. I can’t imagine losing them and losing my house at the same time. The Housing Council prevented that from happening.”

Marguerite said she thinks this happened to her so she could become an advocate.

“That kind of loyalty and dedication to the community or to a person is fantastic,” Marguerite said. “If I didn’t have them doing that for me…I wasn’t physically or mentally able to do it myself.”

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Local homeowners may qualify for Weatherization Assistance Program – rochesterfirst.com

Local homeowners may qualify for Weatherization Assistance Program

by: www.rochesterfirst.com

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC-TV) – Local homeowners who need help making their home more energy efficient can turn to a local organization called PathStone.

The organization was awarded a grant for $1.1 million in funding for its Weatherization Assistance Program.

The program helps eligible homeowners in suburban Monroe County and focuses on households with senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and households with children. A few of the services offered at no-cost include insulation, heating, and air sealing to reduce drafts.

This funding is available through March 2018 and PathStone is currently accepting applications. To apply for the Weatherization Assistance Program at PathStone, you can call: (585) 442-2030 ext. 202 or visit pathstoneenergyinfo.org.

Batavia woman’s experiences, strength inspire city officials working on zombie homes – www.thedailynewsonline.com

Batavia woman’s experiences, strength inspire city officials working on zombie homes

by: Jim Krencik

BATAVIA — With multiple generations of her family needing medical treatment, a Batavia woman spent every penny she had to her name to care for them.

Speaking to city officials Monday, Marguerite requested her last name not be publicized. Despite that privacy, she has been open to sharing with anyone the repeated challenges she faced and the help she received in the face of another personal upheaval.

Foreclosure.

Marguerite was fully two years behind on her mortgage when her lender indicated in 2013 that they were ready to foreclose on her home in the town of Batavia. She was already dealing with the financial and physical complications of neglecting her own needs for her family, but the notice struck at her dignity.

“My home was my sanctuary, my home was where I went to find all the peace and serenity I need,” she said. “It was my safeguard, it was my place to unwind, and lay on the grass with my grandchildren and look at the stars, the moon, the galaxy … the things that take you away from it all.”

Her mortgage lender’s notice also included a list that became another sanctuary. Marguerite said a recommendation to contact The Housing Council at Pathstone set in motion a relationship that saved her home as she moved between sources of turmoil that four years later are shaken off as tests of faith.

Sitting across the table, Assistant City Manager Gretchen DiFante and intern Lindsey Luft were overwhelmed by the adversity Marguerite faced. They are working to encourage more homeowners to pursue services like Pathstone’s and were both inspired and awed.

“It’s really inspired me to assure people that Pathstone is going to be a source of positivity for them, a source of strength, to help get them through a struggling situation in life,” Luft said.

The city has worked with community groups and churches to spread palm cards and fliers urging homeowners to use the no-cost, confidential services based out of The Housing Council at Pathstone’s Batavia office.

“Behind on your mortgage? We can help you,” the fliers say, with pledges to work with them on foreclosure prevention.

Marguerite said the impact was near-immediate for her.

It was a critical moment. She was out of work — her job in a hospital’s radiology department was eliminated after she went on an extended family medical leave in 2012 — and struggling with a series of permanent physical ailments. Her retirement and life insurance had been drained, and bills continued to mount despite a life of just the essentials.

“I’ve always been a strong, individual person, but I lost so much,” Marguerite said.

Within days, Pathstone had connected her with a pro-bono lawyer for her appearance in the foreclosure court, and the agency was assembling her financial records to show that she had not been wasteful. They directed her to assistance through the Expanded STAR tax exemption and social services, helping her to swallow her pride in accepting help.

Marguerite recalls shaking with anxiety as the court date arrived. The judge told it was OK, they were here to figure it out for her. Even the mortgage lender’s attorney explained they did not want to take her home.

“They kept true to that process … I wasn’t let down,” she said, a trial period of paying $300 a month toward the debt for three months, followed by a consolidated property tax, home loan and home insurance payment that was reduced soon after.

She urges people in her situation — Luft estimated more than 100 city residents are at least several months behind on their mortgages — to not give up. Her family and her church stepped up; as did the systems in place, but it was a personal journey.

“Be upfront, be honest, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Marguerite said. “There’s so much to say … I’m still in my house.”

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A dream turned reality celebrated at Pinnacle North – Daily Messenger – mpnnow.com

A dream turned reality celebrated at Pinnacle North

by: Denise Champagne

Assemblyman Kolb at the Canandaigua development: “If you build it, they will come”

CANANDAIGUA — The movie “Field of Dreams,” was on the mind of Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb this weekend as he thought about the Pinnacle North project and what it will become.

At the ribbon cutting Monday, Kolb drew an analogy from the movie, paraphrasing the film’s most famous line of dialogue and telling a large group of developers, civic leaders, staff and community members, “If you build it, they will come.”

Kolb noted the film’s Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer who heard voices telling him to build a baseball diamond in his corn field, also had a lot of naysayers — but like the people involved in the Pinnacle North project, he took his vision from a dream to reality.

“It’s teamwork, and the best is yet to come,” Kolb said, standing beneath a large white tent behind the newly opened Young Lion Brewing Co. “This is just the beginning. It’s just been very rewarding for me to play a small part with all the partners involved in this project.”

The multi-phase, mixed-use project is being designed and developed by Morgan-LeChase Development LLC, a joint venture between Morgan Management LLC and LeChase Construction Services LLC formed in 2013 when plans were first announced to develop a 21-acre parcel on the north side of Lakeshore Drive, across from Kershaw Park.

The first phase includes luxury living quarters at Pinnacle North Apartments, which people started moving into in March; Young Lion Brewing Co., which opened last month; Abbott’s Frozen Custard, which opened Memorial Day; and the soon-to-open restaurant of Three Brothers Winery & Estates.

Reflecting on a rainy weekend, former state Senator Michael Nozzolio, who worked with developers and civic leaders from the project’s inception, said he thought Kolb came up with a great metaphor and joked he was worried he might have used Noah’s Ark.

Nozzolio, who did not seek re-election last November, said working with people on projects is what he misses most about no longer being in the state Senate.

“The Finger Lakes is not just a great place to visit,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to live, it’s a wonderful place to work and it’s a wonderful place to raise your family.”

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