Facing a crisis in affordable housing – Democrat & Chronicle

Facing a crisis in affordable housing

by: Editorial Board

You might not see it from your own front porch, but the Rochester region has a housing crisis on its hands.

One of the reasons you don’t know about it could be buried in a section of your town’s zoning ordinance, barring construction of higher density and multifamily housing. That measure keeps developers from building affordable apartments, because they won’t be able to benefit from the economy of scale needed to keep rents low. Efforts to change zoning for affordable housing are typically thwarted by the not-in-my-backyard movement.

This and many other barriers have resulted in a serious shortage of housing for the 167,600 people living below the poverty line — or the even greater number of people who are hovering just above it.

We must, as one poverty researcher from Harvard University notes, “pull housing back to the center of the poverty debate.” That begins at the local level, where the decisions of policy makers, landlords, developers and citizens can have a dramatic impact.

The affordable housing crisis is creating a great burden on our public resources. For example, over the next five years, New York state is set to spend $10 billion of our tax dollars to create housing for low-income residents. Our federal government spends an enormous amount on rent subsidies and other assistance. Even with expenditures like these, government isn’t coming close to meeting the need.

That creates an even greater cost — measured in lives. There are tens of thousands of children in our community who are growing up without safe and stable homes. When the rent doesn’t get paid, they are evicted. Their family moves — often to another rundown apartment in another decaying neighborhood. Or they end up homeless. In the process, they repeatedly switch schools and lose supportive relationships. In short, they follow a tumultuous path that almost guarantees a lifetime of struggle. And we all will continue to face the dire effects of poverty, which remain on the rise in the city of Rochester, as well as the nine-county region that surrounds it.

No, you might not be able to see this from your front porch. But, that does not mean you are powerless to do something about it at the polls. Support candidates who are committed to addressing this crisis.

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part series of editorials the Editorial Board published this week in response to a new report from the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester, showing the continued growth of poverty in our nine-county region. The board is seeking to encourage discussion about poverty-related issues by voters and political candidates. To read the entire series, please go to DemocratandChronicle.com/Opinion.

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Fraudster gets 15 years for bilking 1,000+ distressed homeowners in loan modification scheme – housingwire.com

Fraudster gets 15 years for bilking 1,000+ distressed homeowners in loan modification scheme

Caused more than $3.5 million in losses

by: Ben Lane

A New York man will spend the next 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges relating to his part in a scheme that defrauded more than 1,000 distressed homeowners by falsely promising loan modifications.

According to the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, David Gotterup pleaded guilty back in June 2016 to conspiring to commit wire, mail and bank fraud.

The charges stem from a scheme involving Gotterup and several others.

According to court documents, Gotterup and his co-conspirators made a series of false promises to convince more than 1,000 thousand distressed homeowners who were seeking a government mortgage modification to pay thousands of dollars each in advance fees to numerous companies owned or controlled by Gotterup.

Those companies included Express Modifications, Express Home Solutions, True Credit Empire, Green Group Today, The Green Law Group, and JG Group.

Court documents showed that Gotterup told telemarketers and salespeople to lie to distressed homeowners by telling them that they were “preapproved” for loan modifications.

The telemarketers and salespeople also falsely told people that they were retaining a “law firm” and an “attorney” who would complete their mortgage relief applications for them and negotiate with the banks to modify the terms of their mortgages on their behalf.

But, in reality, Gotterup and his co-conspirators did little or no work in connection with these fraudulently induced advanced fees, SIGTARP said.

According to the authorities, Gotterup admitted to causing more than $3.5 million in losses.

For his crimes, Gotterup received a sentence of 15 years in federal prison. The court also ordered Gotterup to pay $2,500,050 in forfeiture.

SIGTARP said that restitution to the victims of Gotterup’s scheme will be determined at a later date.

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Rochester spruces up public housing with $410,000 facelift – Democrat & Chronicle

Rochester spruces up public housing with $410,000 facelift

by: Brian Sharp

A four-plex on the corner of Garson Avenue and Fourth Street not far from the Public Market is where the Rochester Housing Authority hopes to start changing perceptions.

“Who says public housing needs to look like public housing?” RHA’s executive director John Hill asks — a rhetorical question, and one he poses often to make his point.

Hill and others plan to gather Tuesday for a ceremonial ribbon cutting at 54-66 Garson Ave. The public housing complex underwent a $410,000 renovation, updating the exterior and interior. In addition to new siding and a new roof, RHA added front porches, lighting and privacy fences around the rear yards, while the inside was completely redone, with new cabinets, fixtures, carpet and flooring. The kitchen and dining room walls were torn out to create a more open floor plan.

Construction started in March of last year, and finished in December.

Garson is the first of several RHA properties in the pipeline for some level of renovation, possibly even a complete rebuild, over the next two or three years. Others include properties on Federal Street, which currently is vacant, on Waring Road and on Shirley Street. All are on the city’s east or northeast side.

Hill was hired last year, taking up a directive of a remade board of directors, and taking charge of an authority that had gone nearly two years without a permanent leader. RHA serves roughly 25,000 people and manages more than 2,400 public housing units in the area. It has an annual budget of more than $80 million.

The authority gets $3.5 million in federal dollars each year to cover maintenance and improvements. What is different is that, going forward, the authority is trying to be more aggressive, with a more robust work plan and moving more quickly. RHA has added staff to tap additional funding sources, including tax credits, and is signing up architecture and engineering firms — including Lothrop Associates, Konopka Architecture and Liro Group — while also seeking a partner developer.

“We need to try to utilize whatever is available to modernize and preserve public housing,” Hill said of RHA’s aging housing stock. “The need is great. Some is under stress. All of it is tired.”

A developer decision is expected in the next 60 days. RHA put out a request for proposals, receiving more than a half dozen responses that are currently being evaluated.

The authority has some 24 public housing sites. Most of the affordable housing is privately owned. RHA does most of its business in Section 8 vouchers. There is a separate push by City Council to get landlords to accept Section 8, with a public meeting expected next month.

As RHA works through its housing stock, the focus will spread across the city. There will be a focus on hiring local residents, buying materials locally: “Whatever we can do to stimulate the economy,” Hill said. RHA’s investments should make its public housing more efficient, and thus more affordable, for the families that live there and for RHA to maintain — while also improving nearby property values and, hopefully, setting a standard, officials said.

“We should be a leader,” said RHA board chairman George Moses, rather than “where you drove by … and, you know, ‘Oh, that’s public housing.'”

RHA does not have a set budget or timeframe for working through all of its properties. Said Hill: “Some of the structures are great, but cabinets, windows and doors are what’s needed (to be replaced).

“We are not going to do a (rebuild) on everything,” Hill said. But “I want people to say, ‘That’s a great-looking piece of property,’ and not even know it’s public housing.”

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Renters’ rights when it comes to property damage – Democrat & Chronicle

Renters’ rights when it comes to property damage

by: Mary Chao

It’s complicated.

That’s what Joel Kunkler, director of landlord tenant services at The Housing Council, said of tenants’ claims when it comes to the windstorm of 2017.

“It’s not the easiest situation,” he said.

Under New York state law, landlords have to abide by a warranty of habitability, which is the expectation that the property will be in livable condition, Kunkler said. That means if a furnace breaks or a roof is leaking, the landlord has an obligation to fix it in a timely manner.

But if it is a power outage and it is up to the utility company to repair, the situation can be nebulous, he said.

“If it’s a brief interruption in service, everyone needs to hunker down and deal with it,” Kunkler said.

When you have extensive damage such as the windstorm, everyone is doing the best they can to get things back in order, said Rochester real estate attorney John Nacca, who is also a landlord. He is busy tending to properties without power to make sure the pipes do not freeze.

Landlords are charged with the legal obligation of doing everything they can to make a home livable. If a tree hit a roof, the landlord has to repair it as soon as possible. If a landlord has empty properties, the tenants may be offered the substitutions, Nacca said.

Tenants also have the right to break the lease if the home is not habitable, Kunkler said. If the property cannot be repaired in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant has the right to be released from the contract.

Lisa Schwingle, who has been renting a home in the village of Pittsford, realizes that the windstorm was an act of God. A tree fell on the roof of her rental home on Wednesday and her landlord quickly came over the next day to temporarily repair the roof before the weather changed.

“Landlord has been great and has been dealing with a lot of damage,” Schwingle said.

Tenants have the ability to buy insurance just as homeowners do, said Ron Papa, president of National Fire Adjustment, which represents policyholders. If the tenant has renters’ insurance, check to see what is covered, he suggested. Some policies may pay for incidentals such as hotels and meals out during catastrophic events, he said.

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