Graduating senior reflects on homelessness, Popsicles – Democrat & Chronicle

Graduating senior reflects on homelessness, Popsicles

by: Khamera Muhammad, with staff writer Justin Murphy

I was 8 years old, about to turn 9, when my father asked me: “Hey, baby girl, what do you want for your birthday?”

For most little girls, it would be an obvious question. They might ask for toys or games or a party, or even money. For me, though, to say that I was surprised would be an understatement.

For the past year, my family and I had been homeless – bouncing from hotel to hotel, counting on my dad to hustle $50 each day to pay the bill, or all six of us sleeping in our 2001 Chevy conversion van, parked outside the storage unit where we kept all our stuff.

Many nights we went hungry; many nights I stayed up questioning God. They say everything happens for a reason, but at that young age I just couldn’t see it. I constantly would think: Why would God put my family through this much hardship?

That’s why my dad’s question surprised me. I thought about it for a long time, then asked: “Can I have mangoes and Popsicles?”

It seems small, but I knew it wasn’t. With barely enough money to get through the week, we basically survived on TV dinners and fast food. My older sister and brother had to go through their final years of high school with run-down sneakers and clothes that weren’t the nicest. They had to sell candy and my mom’s famous bean pies in order to help us get through.

My dad took me that night to Walmart, where I picked out a package of Incredible Hulk Bomb Pops and two juicy mangoes. As we cashed out and drove back to the Days Inn where we were staying that night, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Not only because of my sweet gift, but because I’d witnessed my parents sacrifice to give their child one of the greatest gifts on this Earth – happiness.

We finally found a house many months later, but our situation remained harsh. For a long time we didn’t have heat or furniture, so we made do with a bundle of covers and ourselves, pressed tightly together. As time went on, we slowly got back on our feet and the skies finally cleared.

On Thursday, I will graduate from Rochester Early College International High School with a 3.2 GPA and 12 college credits. I’m the youngest of seven siblings, and we all have our high school diplomas.

I’ve been accepted into 14 colleges for the fall, but I’m still waiting to commit to see if one will offer me a full scholarship. I hope to study political science and become a lawyer; my dad said that since I’m always arguing, I may as well do something useful with it.

You wouldn’t know from looking at me the struggles I went through – my classmates and teachers can tell you I’ve always got a goofy smile on my face – but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them.

As I reflect back, I realize those were my happiest times. The moments where we had to wear extra layers of clothing and huddle together in our van with a bunch of blankets to keep warm through the night. The moments when we had to hurry to get the hotel continental breakfast before it closed so we could at least have one decent meal that day. The moments where no one knew our struggles because our smiles told them otherwise.

 It’s just like one of my favorite music artists, Lyfe Jennings, said: “It’s the bad times that make the good times feel so good.”

Not only that, but I learned not to judge a book by its cover. Kids can have nice shoes or a confident attitude or anything, but you never know what their life is like when they get home.

Most important, though, I learned at a very young age that home isn’t a physical building where you lay your head down at night and eat home-cooked meals. No – home is where you feel safe and loved, with two mangoes and a box of Popsicles, and the opportunity to wake up every day, go out and strive for something better.

This story is adopted from Khamera Muhammad’s college admissions essay.

The Hourly Income You Need To Afford Rent Around The U.S. – huffingtonpost.com

The Hourly Income You Need To Afford Rent Around The U.S.

The average full-time minimum wage worker can’t afford rent in ANY state.

New York budget to target homelessness, affordable housing – housingwire.com

New York budget to target homelessness, affordable housing

by: Kelsey Ramirez

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislators failed to meet their April 1 deadline for the state’s budget, but announced their final agreement Friday, which includes $2.5 billion in funds to combat homelessness and affordable housing.

The final budget came in at $153 billion and even has a plan for tuition-free education at state colleges, according to an article by Jesse McKinley and Lisa Foderaro for The New York Times.

San Francisco implemented a similar tuition-free option earlier this year, which could help Millennials with student debt, which may often hinder homeownership. However, click here to read about how a free-tuition option could also restrict affordability.

New York’s budget also dedicated a substantial amount of funds to fight homelessness and increase affordable housing within the state, according to an article by Tanay Warerkar for Curbed.

The funds will help with the state’s plan to create 100,000 new affordable housing units and 6,000 supportive housing units.

From the article:

The budget deal, which still needs to be officially approved by the State Assembly and Senate, has already garnered praise from several housing groups. A coalition of 11 housing groups statewide including the New York State Association for Affordable Housing issued the following statement:

“Today, the Governor, Senate, and Assembly showed true leadership in passing a state budget that made low-income New Yorkers a priority and finally allocated $2.5 billion in housing funds. The commitment made today will profoundly impact the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, including 88,000 people currently homeless throughout the state and nearly one million households paying more than half their income in rent each month.”

Click here to read more…

A new kitchen for less than $7,000 and other ways to remodel your home on the cheap

A new kitchen for less than $7,000 and other ways to remodel your home on the cheap

by: Mary Chao

It’s a seller’s market.

Inventory is tight and multiple offers abound for homes in good condition. Yet despite low inventory and competitive situations, buyers are still opting for homes in tip-top shape so they don’t have to fix them up.

If you’re a buyer, there’s a better way. You can buy a cosmetically challenged home and make it your own, even if you’re not handy and don’t want to spend a lot of cash.

My husband and I own three properties. We have always purchased homes that are not pretty but are structurally sound at the near bottom of the market. Both of us work full time and neither of us is handy, which means we outsource the labor.

Our tenants for our single-family brick ranch home in Brighton recently left after eight and a half years, having rented the home since we purchased it after the market crash of 2008. That gave us an opportunity to fix up the home and get it ready for new tenants.

We decided it was time for the 1950s kitchen to go. We were able to put in a new galley kitchen for only $7,000, including new cabinetry, appliances and labor.

Other upgrades included new hardwood-like laminate flooring throughout the home, new fixtures, bathtub painting and fresh paint. The total cost of the entire 1,054-square-foot remodel that breathed new life into the home was less than $13,000.

Here are some of my tips on how you can buy your dream home in your dream neighborhood and fix it up to your liking on a budget.

Click here to read the full story…

City and Irondequoit get grants to combat zombie properties – rbj.net

City and Irondequoit get grants to combat zombie properties

by: Velvet Spicer

The City of Rochester and the Town of Irondequoit are two of 18 cities and towns statewide that will receive grants to address and transform zombie properties.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday announced the winners of the first phase of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement grant awards. The investment will total more than $10 million over the next two years.

The program aims to innovatively address and transform blighted, vacant or poorly maintained problem properties through the use of housing and community data from various state agencies. Cities RISE was launched in April as a strategy for helping New York families and communities rebuild from the housing crisis.

The funds will come from settlements made with large financial institutions that contributed to the collapse of the housing market, officials said.

“Too many New Yorkers are still struggling in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis. That’s why my office is investing the dollars we secured from the banks, to provide the tools necessary to rebuild and strengthen our neighborhoods,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Cities RISE presents a 21st century approach to overcoming this crisis and revitalizing New York’s communities.”

The 18 communities were chosen by national community development nonprofits Enterprise Community Partners and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. Each community will receive a two-year subscription to a data platform designed to integrate and analyze data such as code enforcement records, tax liens and fire and police data.

In addition, grantees will receive capacity building support from Spruce Technology and the program will be guided by a senior advisory team of issue area experts who specialize in community revitalization and engagement.

“The Building Blocks software will be a valuable tool in our ongoing efforts to make government more transparent,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said. “Using this software, individuals will be able to get detailed information about properties, particularly vacant properties, in the city. I am thankful to the attorney general for his advocacy on behalf of our citizens, which helps us in our efforts to create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities.”

Click here to read more…

‘JUSTICE SYSTEM’ The Laws Cities Use To Make Homelessness a Crime. A new law gives police new power and wide discretion to arrest the most vulnerable.

‘JUSTICE SYSTEM’ The Laws Cities Use To Make Homelessness a Crime A new law gives police new power and wide discretion to arrest the most vulnerable.

By: Liz Wolfe

There’s nothing shocking, really, about Houston’s new law making it easier for homeless people to be arrested simply for being homeless.

Not when over 100 American cities have effectively criminalized everyday life for the homeless, making crimes of things from sleeping outside to brushing teeth in public. Even as cities become more socially conscious about LGBTQ rights and drug policies, they’ve become less tolerant of their neediest inhabitants and more comfortable with cops and the justice system sweeping up the human trash, as it were.

City-wide bans on public camping (PDF) have increased by 69 percent throughout the United States. What used to be seen as an annoyance is now prohibited, forcing fines or jail time on those who certainly can’t afford it. The only nationwide nonprofit devoted to studying this, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, has been tracking these changes since 2006. Their findings? There are a scary number of laws passed that ironically make it costly to be

For example, in 33 of the 100 U.S. cities they studied, it’s illegal to publicly camp. In 18, it’s illegal to sleep in public. Panhandling is illegal in 27 cities.

In 39 cities, it’s illegal to live in vehicles. For extreme sports junkies (like Yosemite climbers who try to live in their cars), this is an inconvenience. For the homeless, it leaves no alternatives, especially if shelters are too far, too full, or too violent (a common problem). For some people, the choice might be between living in a car or sleeping outside—but what if both are criminalized?

This situation is playing out before our averted eyes in Dallas. The police issued over 11,000 citations for sleeping in public from January 2012 to November 2015. That’s about 323 citations per month, or around ten per day. These citations generally come with fines, and failure to pay (which is to be expected, given that these people are homeless) comes with worse legal trouble, often snowballing into jail time.

 Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is taking a similar approach—his anti-encampment ordinance makes it illegal to use “fabric, metal, cardboard, or other materials as a tent or temporary structure for human habitation.” This ensures that the Houstonian homeless are vulnerable not just to the elements, but also to the constant threat of the police. Officials cite one of the most common justifications for crackdowns on the homeless: neighborhood safety (a more socially acceptable way of talking about the not-in-my-backyard mentality).

City officials in Houston claim tent cities make it easy to hide illicit activity. If by “illicit activity,” they mean drug use, then sure. But as we’ve learned through the embarrassing failures of the drug war, drug use isn’t always as bad as we think and it certainly isn’t improved by greater criminalization efforts. Tent cities are often formed to provide some degree of protection from the elements—not just a haven for drug use.

Mayor Turner says he’s pairing the ban on tents with a bid to increase the number of shelter beds, and that a new police policy will prioritize issuing warnings and attempting to take violators to receive medical treatment, if needed.

All of this would be good if true, but what the new law really does is give police new power and wide discretion to arrest the vulnerable. As with many marginalized groups—including drug users, sex workers and undocumented immigrants—this means the homeless will increasingly fear the police instead of being able to rely on them for help.

Worst of all, is there anything logical about saddling homeless people with jail time?

Click here to read more…

Deadline approaches for national flood insurance program – Democrat & Chronicle

Deadline approaches for national flood insurance program

by: Herb Jackson and Nicole Gaudiano

WASHINGTON — Home sales in New York and other coastal states could begin to decline this summer in areas prone to flooding as Congress considers dramatic changes to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Congress has until September 30 to renew the program, but disagreements remain over how much homeowners should be forced to pay for flood insurance to make the debt-ridden program more solvent.

Buyers and sellers of real estate in floodplains could start to see an impact as early as July, said Mike Kelly, director of government affairs for the New York State Association of Realtors. Absent congressional action, the National Association of Realtors estimates 1,300 home sales nationwide could be delayed or lost each day that the program fails to be reauthorized.

“It isn’t the drop deadline date when everything comes to a standstill,” Kelly said. “Things start to grind to a halt much earlier. Even before September, we’re going to see pending home sales and home purchases begin to slow because of that ambiguity of, ‘Will the program be authorized or not?’”

Created in 1968, when the private insurance industry largely stopped covering floods, the national program tried to get property owners in flood zones to pay premiums that could be pooled to cover disasters and fund mitigation programs and mapping to spur smarter land development.

Despite bipartisan support, action to renew the law has slowed this spring, and while Sept. 30 may seem a long way off, Congress is only due to be in session about a month and a half worth of legislative days before the law expires.

A bipartisan group of senators proposed an overhaul of the program on Tuesday that would cap premium increases, use advanced radar to make more accurate flood maps, and offer some homeowners vouchers to pay for coverage and loans to elevate buildings.

The bill, sponsored by senators on two key committees and from states that rely heavily on the program, is one of several proposals pending this year for a program that insures 5 million homes and businesses, including 184,000 in New York, but cannot repay nearly $25 billion borrowed from the treasury to respond to catastrophic storms, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“Americans deserve a flood insurance program that is sustainable for taxpayers, affordable for homeowners, and accountable to everyone,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said at a news conference. Led by Menendez and Louisiana Republican John Kennedy the group also includes Republicans Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrats Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Menendez, Kennedy, Warren and Van Hollen all serve on the Senate’s banking committee, which is responsible for writing the new bill. Cochran is chairman of the appropriations committee, which funds disaster relief, and Rubio and Kennedy are members of the committee.

Click here to read the full story…

‘Isolated and depressed’: One woman’s life-changing story of Sojourner House – Democrat & Chronicle

‘Isolated and depressed’: One woman’s life-changing story of Sojourner House

by: Caurie Putnam

So much has changed in LaRhonda Harris’ life in a year.

“I was isolated and depressed,” said Harris, 27, recalling life at this time last year.  “My daughter and I were not in a good situation. Where we were living at wasn’t good at all.”

On Aug. 22, 2016, Harris had enough of living in an unhealthy environment.

With a suitcase and her two-year old daughter she showed up at Sojourner House at PathStone seeking safe shelter.  She received that and more.

“They brought the light back out in me,” said Harris, about the staff at Sojourner House – a Rochester nonprofit that provides women and children who are homeless or in crisis with housing and educational programs.

“I went to weekly groups – domestic violence groups and women’s groups.  They taught me how to never look back and how to be a stronger person,” she added.

Harris is now looking for a job and has her own apartment at Wilson Commencement Park (which became a PathStone Corporation agency in 2016).

“I feel happier than I ever did in my life,” she said.  “My home is so beautiful; I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

Harris’ story is one of countless success stories in the 35-year history of Sojourner House and one of the reasons the nonprofit is celebrating that milestone on June 16 at their Gala for Strength.

“We have hundreds of success stories of women leaving Sojourner House with their life back on track and that is because of the committed staff and incredible support that the Rochester community has shown us,” said Seanelle (Tracy) Hawkins, EdD., executive director of Sojourner House at PathStone and Wilson Commencement Park.  “The gala is our opportunity to thank our supporters and celebrate our successes.”

The gala is also a way to close a gap that remains in Sojourner House’s budget after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a $227,000 cut to Sojourner House and $142,000 cut to Wilson Commencement Park in the spring of 2016.

“It looked like doom and gloom for Sojourner House,” said Hawkins, about when the cuts first happened.  “We were devastated.”

Hawkins and the board of directors created a program redesign taskforce that streamlined services among PathStone agencies and acquired significant donations by the community and the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation.  All that remains, now, is a $35,000 gap Hawkins hopes the gala will close.

“We wrote letters to the community and checks poured in,” Hawkins said.  “It was powerful for us to learn just how much we mean to the community.”

Hawkins compared the community support over the past year to the support the organization received in the late 1980s when (on Aug. 25, 1987) the interior of Sojourner House’s original location on East Main Street was destroyed by a resident’s former abusive partner in an arson attack.

In 1989, Sojourner House officially reopened its doors in the former convent of St. Monica’s Church on Millbank St. (where it remains today).

“The community rallied around us then and three decades later the community has come back again to help celebrate Sojourner House,” Hawkins said.  “Thirty years later the community recognizes the value Sojourner House brings to the community.  We’re such a beacon of hope for women and children in need.”

Click here for the full story…

 

Mount Morris valedictorian: Hard work at school and family business prompts success – Democrat & Chronicle

Mount Morris valedictorian: Hard work at school and family business prompts success

by: Mary Chao

Along the main route that leads into Mount Morris, New Mun Yuen Chinese Restaurant sits in a dated strip plaza with a Save-A-Lot supermarket as an anchor. Its outdoor signage is faded with age, matching the vintage of the plaza. Inside the restaurant, the Lin family and their six children are scattered about, with dad Din Zhao Lin handling the wok duties, stir frying Chinese American dishes such as sesame chicken, while his wife Li Feng Chen prepares the orders.

Life at the Chinese restaurant is the bane of Nelly Lin’s existence since arriving in Mount Morris 12 years ago. The family had lived on the lower east side of Manhattan when they saw an ad in the Chinese newspaper World Journal for a takeout restaurant in a small town in upstate New York. Weary from working until midnight and not seeing their kids, Lin and his wife decided to give life in a new area a chance. They arrived in the Livingston County town not knowing any one, with minimal English skills, and hoping for a better life for their children. Mun Yuen means abundant sources in Chinese and it was the family’s hope that their new hometown would be filled with prosperity.

Nelly, 18, the oldest of the children, didn’t speak English when her young life was uprooted from New York’s Chinatown brimming with new immigrants. But with help from her teachers and through sheer determination, she will graduate as valedictorian of Mount Morris High School on June 25, walking down the aisle to receive her diploma as the first in her family to attend college as she is bound for the State University of New York at Geneseo.

12 hour days, 364 days a year

In many ways, the Lins are akin to other Chinese immigrants: Work and save to open a takeout restaurant that requires minimal English language skills and hope that the second generation will fare better. Life is not easy for these families or their children. Instead of Little League or recitals, free time is spent at the restaurant helping the family business. There are no weekends or holidays off. The Lins work 364 days a year, 12 hours a day, with the only day off being Thanksgiving. In order to make enough money at a small takeout, they do not hire additional help.

The Lin children arrive at the restaurant after school and work on their school projects and play games with each other. Five more girls followed Nelly: Linda, 16; Ian, 13; Anna, 11; Holly, 10 and Monica, 7.

As the eldest, Nelly takes charge of her sisters’ care in addition to her duties at the family restaurant and school. Education is serious business for Nelly as she realizes that it’s the path to a life outside restaurants.

“They’re always emphasizing education,” Nelly said of her parents.

Both her parents are from the Fuzhou province of China, where there was a big influx of immigration in the 1990s, after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China gave them enhanced consideration for asylum. Chen arrived in 1995 and her husband Lin arrived in 1997, meeting in the restaurant industry in New York. There was little work in Fuzhou back then, Chen, 43, said in Mandarin Chinese. She paid a syndicate $40,000 for transport to the United States and blended into a sea of immigrants in New York working in the back end of restaurants.

Chen met her husband while both working at a restaurant in Manhattan. Nelly was born in Brooklyn but the family moved to the Chinatown area. Chen worried that her daughters weren’t picking up English in an ethnic neighborhood and hated having to work until midnight and not seeing her children. The restaurant in Mount Morris was within their financial reach and was a way to reconnect with her kids. The long work days are not ideal, but at least the entire family is together, she said.

“We are happy as a family,” Chen said in Chinese.

Life in a small town

The town of Mount Morris on the edge of the popular Letchworth State Park has a population of 4,465 as of the 2010 Census. More than 95 percent of residents are Caucasian and less than one percent are Asian.  The Lin family do not know any other Chinese families in town.

Getting to the top of the class wasn’t easy for Nelly as her parents could do little to help with her homework since they speak very little English. She would arrive at school early to get the extra tutoring she needed, asking teachers before class started.

“She is one of the most hardworking, conscientious people I’ve ever met,” said Becky Chenaille, principal of Mount Morris High School. “She is very self-motivated.”

Twenty-six percent of the students in the school district are English-language learners, mostly from Puerto Rico, she said. The school district is cognizant of the needs of English as Second Language students and has three ESL teachers on staff to ensure they succeed.

Nelly Lin has an incredible work ethic, overcoming the obstacles of being an English-language learner, said Ryan Humphrey, who was her eighth-grade living environment teacher and her 11th-grade chemistry teacher.

“It seemed as if she never could learn enough and always wanted to know more. She always wanted to know what she could do better or how to improve. These types of maturity and motivation are something I hadn’t seen very often, let alone in an eighth- grader,” Humphrey said.

As an 11th grader, she was taking regents chemistry, with many seniors and other accelerated classmates.

“She had the strongest work ethic out of all the students and that paid off with the highest chemistry Regents score that year for her class,” Humphrey added.  “I will never forget Nelly asking two months before the Regents exam asking if she can have some practice exams to get a head start. Mind you, Nelly would find time for all of this extra studying and reviewing while helping run the family restaurant.“

The motivation to be a high academic achiever while helping her family does come with personal sacrifices. Nelly was in the chorus in ninth grade but dropped out to focus on her studies.

Click here to read the full story…

Senate to consider bill prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBT people – housingwire.com

Senate to consider bill prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBT people

Would expand Fair Housing Act to cover gender identity and sexual orientation

by: Ben Lane

Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability, but that could soon change thanks to a newly introduced bill backed by several prominent Senate Democrats.

The bill, the Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2017, would expand the Fair Housing Act to cover gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes.

he push to expand the protections of the Fair Housing Act is being led by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who spent much of his pre-political career as a fair housing attorney.

Also backing the bill are Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass; Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire; Patrick Leahy, I-Vermont; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Ed Markey, D-Mass, Al Franken, D-Minn; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Corey Booker, D-New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn; Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The legislation is a companion bill to a similar bipartisan action introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Reps. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia; and Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, which is still in subcommittee.

Adding gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes would ensure equal housing opportunities for all Americans, Kaine said.

“As a former civil rights attorney who focused on fair housing, I learned that a house is more than just an object. It’s part of the very definition of who you are as a person and is central to every American’s life,” Kaine said.

“Because of incomplete protections in federal housing law, LGBT Americans can face discrimination when they try to buy or rent a home, just because of who they are,” Kaine added.

“This is about equality, and no American should be turned away from a home they love because of who they love,” Kaine said. “I would like to thank Rep. Taylor for his leadership on this issue, as well as all the civil rights attorneys out there fighting for justice on this issue every day.”

Of the bills, Taylor said that expanding the Fair Housing Act would ensure equal protection for all Americans.

“This bill protects and codifies a fundamental American principle: fairness, respect, and equal treatment under the law,” Taylor said. “Nobody should face discrimination about where they live because of who they love.”

Adding the federal protections is critically important, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.”

Currently, only 20 states along with the District of Columbia explicitly outlaw housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while another two states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“This patchwork of protections leaves millions of LGBTQ people vulnerable,” the Human Rights Campaign said.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy celebrated the bill.

“In far too many places across the country, LGBTQ people are at risk of being denied housing or kicked out of their homes just because of who they are,” Stacy said.

“What side of a state line you live on should not determine your ability to find a place to live without fear of discrimination,” Stacy added. “We thank Senator Tim Kaine for his continued leadership working to end unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

Click here to read more…