Monroe, Cayuga are in the money: FEMA amends shoreline disaster area – Democrat & Chronicle

Monroe, Cayuga are in the money: FEMA amends shoreline disaster area

by: Steve Orr

Two months after omitting municipalities in Monroe and Cayuga counties from its Lake Ontario flooding disaster area, federal officials have amended the declaration to make them eligible.

President Donald Trump declared the shoreline a disaster area on Nov. 14, which made government agencies in lake shore communities eligible for federal aid to help cover damage to public property and money spent responding to the historic shoreline flooding.

Monroe’s omission, in particular, was surprising, because local governments had spent considerable money responding to months of high water on the lake. Officials later acknowledged that the damage assessment in Monroe had been mysteriously cut short.

State officials blamed the county, and county officials blamed the state. What really happened remains unclear.

Nonetheless, state emergency officials appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to revisit the damage assessments in Monroe and Cayuga counties.

After field visits and paperwork review, FEMA and other officials announced Friday that the two counties had surpassed their thresholds and were now included.

The new preliminary damage estimate for Monroe County is $3,338,996, compared to the county’s population-base threshold of about $2.7 million. Cayuga’s estimate is $364,837 versus a threshold of about $289,000.

FEMA customarily reimburses local governments up to 75 percent of eligible costs.

Officials in Rochester, Albany and Washington, D.C. who had lobbied FEMA to amend its declaration were quick to heap praise on the agency. County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said its action “will help local governments receive fair funding for costs incurred as a result of significant flooding along Lake Ontario last year.

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19th Ward is seeing an upswing in real estate activity – Democrat & Chronicle

19th Ward is seeing an upswing in real estate activity

by: Mary Chao

The two-story home off Genesee Street in the 19th Ward had seen better days. Vandals tore through the century-old building, ripping out copper for resale with the entire interior and exterior falling apart from years of neglect and vacancy.

While many would see the zombie home as urban blight, Mark Updegraff saw it as an opportunity. He purchased the 2,500-square-foot dilapidated home for $33,000 in 2017 as an investment, fixing it up to lease.

“This is a popular area for investors,” Updegraff said of the 19th Ward, noting its proximity to University of Rochester and the interest in walkable neighborhoods.

The Barton Street home is the latest in a series of investments in the 19th Ward for Updegraff. When it’s all said and done, there will be two more units in his portfolio available for lease. In total, Updegraff, 38, has fixed up 30 separate buildings in the 19th Ward, with 50 rental units that his company manages. What began as a way to bridge the financial gap after he was laid off has turned into a full-time new career, with The Updegraff Group employing 27 staffers at his real estate and property management company.

The Great Recession

A graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology’s image and photographic technology program in 1997, Updegraff went on to work at ITT in Rochester. But when the company lost a large government contract in the midst of the Great Recession in 2008, Updegraff found himself out of work. He could return to his roots in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, but his wife, Maria, a graduate of University of Rochester, insisted on staying in their adopted hometown. So Updegraff had to adjust and adapt, starting a new career in real estate.

Fortunately for Updegraff, he had invested in rental properties while he was working, so he had some seed money in the form of equity. He obtained his real estate license and found rapport with clients who were seeking a low pressure agent who didn’t push for a sale. Updegraff would also scout out distressed homes to fix up as investments.

The city’s 19th Ward called out to Updegraff. The southwest city neighborhood is filled with tree-lined streets and grand homes from yesteryear. There’s a mix of racial, ethnic and economic diversity with doctors, students, politicians and poor families all living along side each other.

Updegraff scouted for distressed properties, doing his part to help the zombie home problem.

“We go into these areas knowing it will be a hard and slow battle, but if we endure and work together, we can change neighborhoods,” Updegraff said.

The best part about restoring homes for rental is that it attracts caring tenants, he added. But he understands that it may be a struggle to retain these tenants in locations where bad elements live in close proximity.

 A lot of the dilapidated homes have people who live there who get their income from illicit activities, Updegraff said.  These homes look like zombie properties without being vacant, he explained. When these homes spread in an area, some stakeholders will turn their backs out of frustration, which leads to foreclosure or demolition. Vacant homes provide a breeding ground for more illicit activities and the problem just grows, Updegraff said.

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Attention senior citizens: NY may freeze, then eliminate, your school taxes – Democrat & Chronicle

Attention senior citizens: NY may freeze, then eliminate, your school taxes

by: Joseph Spector

ALBANY — Senior citizens in New York could see a big property-tax break and all other homeowners would get a larger tax rebate under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by the Republican-led state Senate.

The $5 billion plan over 10 years, senators said, would help lower property taxes in New York, which is among the most expensive places to live in the nation.

But how the Republicans would pay for the plan and whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats who control the Assembly would support it is uncertain.

The state also faces fiscal troubles: a $4.4 billion deficit for the upcoming year.

Still, Republicans were undaunted, saying property taxpayers deserve a break and that their plan would curb the exodus of New Yorkers leaving for other states.

“We rank the bottom of the list when it comes to business climate,” said Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Colesville, Broome County, said at a Capitol news conference with his colleagues.

“We rank the bottom of the list when it comes to taxes and affordability. But there’s one place where we’re ranked number one, and that’s in outmigration of people.”

Under the plan, senior citizens would initially have their school taxes — the largest part of a property-tax bill — frozen. Then, all school taxes would be phased out after 10 years.

The Senate GOP also proposed doubling the state’s current exemption on pension income, which the senators claimed would save seniors $275 million a year and help avoid them leaving to low-tax states.

Additionally, the current property-tax-rebate checks that go to more than 2 million homeowners would be increased by 25 percent.

“These checks currently provide direct, much-needed relief through checks in the mail to
homeowners and increasing their amount will help further ease the local tax
burden,” the Senate’s “Affordability Agenda” said.

New York already spends more than $3 billion on a year on its STAR rebate program, which provides savings for homeowners and seniors on their school taxes.

For those income eligible, the average basic STAR credit in 2016 was $750, while the average Enhanced STAR was about $1,400 for eligible seniors.

The state is also in the second year of a property-tax-rebate check program that provides a portion of the STAR savings back to homeowners based on income.

Those checks are currently going out.

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NY may scrap its income tax for a payroll tax – Democrat & Chronicle

NY may scrap its income tax for a payroll tax

by: Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY — New York may end its income tax and instead expand its payroll tax as a way to outmaneuver the new federal law that limits deductions for state and local taxes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday during his State of the State address that he is exploring how to make the complicated switch, joining other high-tax states in considering how to protect residents’ tax deductions and state revenue.

California and New Jersey leaders have also discussed similar steps, such as programs to allow people to pay charitable contributions to their state governments — rather than pay income taxes.

“It’s a question of our competitiveness long-term and preserving the strength of New York state and New York’s state economy,” Cuomo said, “at a time when we have federal government that is giving other states a structural competitive advantage against us.”

Cuomo also said New York will sue the federal government to fight the tax law, and he vowed to lead a national effort to get the law repealed.

Responding to Washington

Business groups and Republicans have criticized Cuomo’s positions, saying New York should find ways to lower taxes rather than look to fiscal gimmicks.

“Overhauling our tax code should include a thorough examination of our existing unsustainable spending, not imposing a potentially complicated payroll tax on employers,” said Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Cuomo, who is seeking re-election in November and is a potential presidential candidate in 2020, is expected to provide more details about his plans in his proposed state budget later this month.

The ideas are aimed at combating the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductionsput into the federal tax plan approved by Congress and President Donald Trump last month.

It hurts high-tax states’ wealthy residents who easily exceed the cap. The average deduction in California, New York and New Jersey were each over $17,000 in 2015, according to the Government Finance Officers Association.

Since some residents won’t be able to deduct their full state taxes when they itemize their income taxes, a move toward a broader payroll tax could be a way to protect income, supporters say.

Income taxes would end, but employers would then essentially collect the same in payroll tax from employees. Employers and employees would be taxed more, advocates say, but it would still allow for the full deductibility of taxes.

And most importantly for states, it could allow them to maintain their level of tax revenue and avoid residents leaving for lower-tax states.

It would also, to the delight of Democrats in high-tax states, limit how much the federal government would collect in new tax revenue to fund its $1.7 trillion tax cut.

“If the income tax is reduced by the same amount as the payroll tax, the state gets the same amount of money, the worker ends up in the same place and the Republicans don’t get to screw the blue states,” Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank in Washington D.C., wrote Dec. 20.

Charitable contributions

Cuomo also noted the charitable contribution option.

Some states, like California, are considering a way to set up a charitable organization so residents can donate to the state to pay for programs and services in lieu of paying income taxes — thus allowing the contributions to be deductible.

In California, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has had a bill to create a California Excellence Fund to “allow a credit equal to the amount contributed by the taxpayer” to the state.

Exploring ways to usurp the federal tax plan should be considered as a way to protect taxpayers and the state coffers, Democrats and progressive groups in New York said.

“It’s really complicated, as the governor said, but I think it’s a requirement now for us to look at ways to work within the construct the federal government has set up and really try to shield everyday New Yorkers from the harmful impacts,” Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, said.

Democrats in the state Legislature have pushed for higher taxes on the wealthy, but that plan faces an increasingly uphill battle because of the federal tax overhaul.

Cuomo, instead, suggested he might look at other ways to protect state tax dollars, noting he may want to end a so-called carried interest loophole that benefits Wall Street.

“It is complicated, it is difficult, but it is clear that we must protect New York taxpayers from this assault,” Cuomo said.

Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions, including the legality of the ideas and how the federal government would respond.

Also, New York has a progressive income-tax system where higher-income residents pay more in taxes. A switch to a payroll tax would complicate it, said E.J. McMahon, founder of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank.

Any plan would need to ensure lower- and middle-income New Yorkers aren’t hurt, said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed group in Albany.

“Looking at the swap between payroll and income taxes is interesting.” Deutsch said. “But it is potentially fraught with some pitfalls that would need to be addressed. We would need to make sure it is fair and equitable.”

Still, Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, Columbia County, said Cuomo should look to his own state budget before knocking Washington. Faso voted against the tax bill, but has been critical of state spending.

“Changing to a payroll tax system would be extremely complicated and will likely be met with resistance from taxpayers and businesses alike,” Faso said in a statement.

“The solution is to lower the cost of government in New York and make our state a place where businesses can create jobs so our people don’t have to flee.”

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The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that rental properties make up at least 40% of all households affected by foreclosure across the country; in New York the number may be as high as 56%.

Another issue for tenants in foreclosed properties is property maintenance. During the foreclosure process, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible for maintenance of the property.

The current property owner, the tenants, the foreclosing party (usually a bank), and the new owner of a property going through foreclosure all have certain rights and obligations.


Pre-Foreclosure Notice

At the start of the foreclosure action, the bank must notify all tenants that the property is the subject of a foreclosure action. Tenants must receive this notice before any post-foreclosure eviction action may be brought in court. The bank must provide its name, address, and telephone number on all notices to tenants.
For buildings with fewer than five rental units, the bank must deliver notice directly to each tenant by certified, first-class mail. For buildings with five or more rental units, the bank may instead post copies of the notice on the outside of each of the building’s entrances and exits.
This is an important right. While this doesn’t protect you from foreclosure, it does let you know what’s going on, and who is involved and enables you to start planning for the future.

Tenants May Be Named in the Foreclosure Action

The bank may name each tenant as a defendant in the foreclosure action. In such cases, the tenant will receive a formal summons and complaint from the county clerk. This filing generally serves as a secondary notice to ensure that all tenants are aware of the foreclosure. Although named as a defendant, the tenant has no legal obligation to appear in court to defend the action.


Continue to pay your rent. Before ownership is transferred to a new owner tenants remain subject to the requirements of their lease agreements, including payment of rent to the landlord. In some cases, a receiver may be appointed to manage rental payments while the action is pending. If a receiver is appointed, tenants should receive proof of appointment and information on how to submit rental payments to the receiver instead of to the landlord.

During the pending action, the landlord is required to maintain the property as they would in the absence of any foreclosure action.


The foreclosing party must notify all affected tenants of the outcome of the foreclosure judgment. There is typically a lapse between the final foreclosure judgment – which revokes ownership from the landlord – and the foreclosure sale, which completes the sale and transfer of title to a new owner. During this time, the bank has a duty to maintain the property.


After the foreclosure sale is complete and title is transferred to a new owner, the new owner must provide written notice to all tenants providing the new owner’s name and address, and advising tenants of the following rights:

Tenants in Rent-Controlled & Rent Stabilized Units: Regardless of the outcome of a foreclosure, tenants in rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units maintain the same rights and obligations as they did under agreements with their previous landlords. The only change is the party to whom they submit their rental payments. The new owner must continue to comply with all laws and regulations that apply to units subject to
rent control and rent stabilization.

The only exception to the above is that a new owner can evict a tenant, in only one unit, if the owner intends to occupy that unit as his/her primary residence. In that case, the new owner must provide notice to vacate at least 90 days prior to the effective date of eviction.

Tenants in Section 8 Housing: The rights of tenants in Section 8 housing are almost the same as for rent controlled and rent stabilized tenants, except that the standard for eviction is “for serious or repeated violations of the terms and conditions of the lease, for violation of applicable Federal, State, or local law, or for other good cause.” Change of ownership due to foreclosure is not in itself good cause for eviction so in the absence of other compelling circumstances Section 8 tenants may not be evicted by the new owner. The same exception noted above regarding owner’s use as primary residence applies to Section 8 tenants.

Tenants in Non-Regulated Units: Tenants residing in units that are not subject to rent control or rent stabilization may retain occupancy either until the end of their lease term or for 90 days after receipt of the notice from the new owner, whichever is greater.

Tenants in non-regulated units who wish to remain in their apartment should communicate so directly with the new owner, however, the new owner is under no obligation to extend tenant occupancy beyond the expiration of the original lease agreement or beyond 90 days in the absence of a written agreement.

Tenants that do not have a written lease may remain in the unit for 90 days, paying the same rent they had under the previous ownership.

If you are a tenant and feel you are being wrongly evicted you should consult an attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call the New York State Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Program at (800) 342-3661 to find one. If you do not think you can afford a lawyer, you may qualify for free legal assistance. For more information,
you can call the Legal Aid office in your area, visit Law Help at or call our Foreclosure Relief Hot Line at (800) 269-0990 for assistance in locating free legal services in your area.