Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes” – 13wham.com

Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes”

by: WHAM

Monroe County, N.Y. – It has been one year since Monroe County formed a task force to decrease the number of “zombie homes,” or vacant properties.

Now, that task force is taking action with two initiatives that were announced Friday morning.

The county’s vision is to increase the vibrancy of communities and part of that is by working together.

The task force will create a homeowners fair, which will be a proactive approach to help prevent people from losing their homes.

The county also wants to create a hub where banks and property owners can work together.

If for some reason someone has to walk away from their home, the task force can steer would-be vacant homes to non-profit groups for better use or for people in need.

“I think anyone who has ever lived near or next to one of these properties has experienced the loitering issues,” said Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello.

Rochester City Council member Jackie Ortiz agrees.

“The potential for drug activity and just the blight that it causes in the neighborhood is bringing down property value,” said Ortiz. “That’s exactly why we have this task force.”

So far, recommendations were made for 24 vacant properties and progress has been made on 17 of those homes.

The task force is also asking for the community to be involved. To report or make a recommendation on homes in the area, call the hotline at 800-342-3736.

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Ex-South Wedge motel now a mixed-use apartment complex – Democrat & Chronicle

Ex-South Wedge motel now a mixed-use apartment complex

by: Mary Chao

The South Wedge continues to grow with new retail and housing. Wedgepoint Apartments, located at the entrance to the South Wedge neighborhood, is now open for leasing.

The building features 68,000 square feet that will accommodate 60 apartments in a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.  In addition to the residential space, the property will also include 4,900 square feet of commercial space on the first floor.

What was formerly the site of a dilapidated motel is now a mixed-use complex. The first commercial tenant will be Fountain of Youth Fitness. Two additional commercial spaces are available.

The new project at 390 South Ave. was built on a vacant lot that had once housed the motel at the corners of South Avenue and Mt. Hope Avenue, said deputy housing administrator Josh Sankowski. The complex feature a courtyard, a rooftop garden and a recreation room on the first floor.

The area is on the edge of South Wedge, near the new  Abundance  Co-op. South Wedge has been an area of growth for retail with places such as Premier Pastry, Second Chic Consignment and other stores.

The apartments are available for lease with varying degrees of income requirement. For example, some of the apartments require that tenants make 60 percent of median household income in Monroe County while others require 90 percent, Sankowski explained. The median household income for a family of four in the county is $67,000.

Rents varied depending on size and income of tenants, but most were in the $520 range. The first tenants are currently moving in and there are four vacancies left, with a waiting list.

Katherine Samuel, 69, moved to Wedgepoint a month ago from Midtown Towers. She applied in September and is thrilled to be accepted.

“I love the Wedge,” Samuel said, pointing to the shops nearby. “The Wedge is upgrading. It’s good for me to be walking to places.”

Developed by Pathstone Pathstone Corp. — a nonprofit community development organization, the $16 million development is being financed through private and public resources, including the City of Rochester, New York State Home, New York State Community Investment Fund, New York State Housing Trust Fund, NeighborWorks America and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program as well as The Community Preservation Corp.’s permanent loan funded through the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

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Willow Domestic Violence Center holds virtual ribbon cutting ceremony – Rochesterfirst.com

Willow Domestic Violence Center holds virtual ribbon cutting ceremony

The state of the art facility’s location is confidential

by: Abbey Noble

The Willow Domestic Violence Center held a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony to open a state-of-the-art facility Thursday.

A virtual ceremony was necessary because the location of the building is kept confidential to ensure the safety of the families using Willow’s services.

The brand new Shill Family Building makes Willow the largest domestic violence shelter in Upstate New York, doubles the size of its counseling center and includes a first-of-its-kind onsite pet shelter.

“This is not just bricks and mortar. This is about safety, it’s about healing and respectful spaces,” said President and CEO Jaime Sanders.

If you or anyone you know wants to contact the Willow Domestic Violence Center the hotline number is 222-SAFE.

Click here to see the video…

Pilot program would give NY college graduates money for homes –

GENEVA—First, it was “tuition-free” college at SUNY schools. Now New York is offering recent college graduates money toward the down payment of a home.

The “Graduate to Homeownership” program, launched on Wednesday, provides first time homebuyers who have graduated with an associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate degree in the past 48 months between $3,000 and $15,000 in down payment assistance if they buy a home in one of 8 specific upstate cities.

The $5 million program is first-come, first-served and open to those graduates who want to buy a home in the cities of Jamestown, Geneva, Elmira, Oswego, Oneonta, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls or Middletown. The program works in conjunction with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative that was announced for those same cities earlier this year.

The hope is that the incentive will encourage graduates to put down roots in upstate communities, bringing new energy and talent into cities that have struggled with “brain drain” in the past. “They graduate, they want to buy a house and it just seems insurmountable, that dream is so far in the future and we want to make that dream a reality sooner,” says Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul.

How much each individual graduate gets depends on how much the home costs. He/she will also be required to take a homebuyer education course. There is no requirement that the graduate stay in the house for a specific time period after purchasing the home and claiming the incentive. “On top of all of the school loans and things like that that I have, to have a program that offers to actually help you, to give you assistance with closing costs, it’s definitely something to look into,” says Deirdre Ware, a student at Finger Lakes Community College.

The $5 million program along with the $165 million “tuition-free” SUNY college program are funded by taxpayers in this year’s state budget.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): “You have taxpayers on the other side of this issue that say, ‘I’m still paying my student’s college loans, I came up with money for a down payment to be a paying taxpayer here in New York State, why am I being asked to pay for other people’s gains?’ How do you respond to that?”
Lt. Gov Hochul: “We’re investing in people…To the people who are paying student debt from years past, I’m sorry that we didn’t have a program like this before, I’m sure you would have taken advantage of this but something like this has to start somewhere.”

“Graduate to Homeownership” is a pilot program. The state says if it’s successful and a lot of students sign up and have success, it may look to expand it in other cities during next year’s state budget process.

For more information you can click here

Root out unfair housing issues – Democrat & Chronicle

Root out unfair housing issues

by: Editorial Board

Sometimes to uncover a case of housing discrimination, it takes a super sleuth. Or, in New York, it takes a “tester.”

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Fair Housing Program, and its goal is to uncover discrimination in rental and home sale transactions. As part of the program, the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal will use trained fair housing “testers” — people who represent different racial, gender, and economic backgrounds, parents and people with disabilities. Acting as potential renters or home seekers, the testers will check for discriminatory bias among sellers and landlords.

Forty-eight years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it unlawful to discriminate in the rental, sale and financing of homes, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability, housing discrimination continues to quietly plague our community. Those who deny access must be rooted out and this program is a good tool in fighting a morally repugnant problem that is more subtle than it was 50 years ago.

The New York state Division of Human Rights recently reached settlements on 123 cases filed with the state alleging housing discrimination in 2015. In one of those cases, a potential tenant in Rochester filed a complaint that alleged a broker at a real estate firm denied her the opportunity to view and apply for an apartment because of her race, and made false assertions of unavailability to dissuade her from pursuing the unit. The broker was required to pay damages.

Sadly, news of housing discrimination cases statewide and locally comes as no surprise to us. Unite Rochester began reporting on the racial disparities in housing in our community in 2013, and there have been ongoing examples locally.

Last summer, for example, Empire Justice Center, a statewide public interest law firm, released a report that said African-Americans in Rochester are being disproportionately shut out of the local housing market. Black people are twice as likely — or even more, depending on their income bracket — to be denied mortgages when compared to white people who earn equal pay.  Also last year,  Five Star Bank settled claims that it had refused to give loans to people living in Rochester or predominantly minority suburban neighborhoods.

The benefits of the Fair Housing Program include more than potentially catching and punishing scofflaws. The information collected by testers could help raise awareness about the subtle but still damaging discriminatory acts that continue to exist in our community.

If the Fair Housing Program can raise awareness while helping to eradicate housing discrimination, it will contribute to making New York state a fairer, more welcoming state for all.

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$10M in neighborhood grants at risk – Democrat & Chronicle

$10M in neighborhood grants at risk

by: Meaghan M. McDermott

A federal funding stream that has poured more than $100 million into the Rochester-area economy over the past decade is in jeopardy as the Trump administration seeks to end a government grant program that injects funds into community and economic development projects.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, known in government parlance as the CDBG program, is a potential budget-cut target this year under a blueprint released last month by President Donald J. Trump. Eliminating the program would result in a national annual savings of $3 billion that could be spent on something else. The budget blueprint calls for boosting military spending by more than $54 billion, a 10 percent increase, that would be funded with equivalent cuts in other areas.

The Trump administration says it believes the tax cut plan it announced this past week will pay for itself through economic growth. So the likelihood is that the $3 billion savings from ending CDBGs would go toward the boost in military spending.

If CDBGs ends

The blueprint Trump put forward could change several times before a budget is finalized, and there are other potential program cuts that could impact the Rochester region. But cutting the block grants would be felt very close to home.

What would potentially be lost would be quality of life programs that the $3 billion supports now, including state and local government endeavors as varied as job training, parking lots, museums, housing repairs and infrastructure projects. Local and state governments, already strapped for cash, would have to make up the difference, if it were to be made up at all.

CDBGs also support Meals on Wheels, which got the lion’s share of attention last month after news broke of a possible federal initiative to eliminate the 42-year-old CDBG program. But, helping to provide meals to elderly shut-ins is just a tiny sliver of the federal dollars given to localities to improve overall quality of life for residents. An exclusive Democrat and Chronicle analysis of 2016 CDBG projects in Monroe County and the three communities here (Greece, Irondequoit and Rochester) that get dedicated funds from the program shows:

►While the bulk of the funds, more than $8 million in the fiscal year 2016, went to the city of Rochester, benefits also accrued to projects in more than a dozen suburban communities that do not get direct federal grants.

 ►Of more than $1.8 million provided to Monroe County, about a third was granted to towns and villages for fixes or improvements to their roadways, sewer systems, parks and public facilities.

►Nearly $1.4 million was provided to low- and moderate-income homeowners all across the county via direct grants and low-cost loans to make vital home repairs to roofs, foundations, windows or plumbing, heating and electrical systems. In Rochester, some of this money is also used to help homeowners eliminate problems related to lead-based paint, which has been linked to a range of health problems.

►Tens of thousands of dollars was used for initiatives that help senior citizens age in place and retain their longtime homes, including transportation and legal services, home safety assessments and installing bathroom handrails and grab bars.

Numerous officials say that if the funding stream dries up, they would face the difficult choice of asking local property taxpayers to shoulder an additional burden or doing without.

Click here to read the full story…

Thank you FiveStar Bank for your generous gift in support of The Housing Council at PathStone Post Purchase program!

FiveStarBankWe would like to thank FiveStar Bank for their generous gift in support of our Post Purchase program! Participants enjoyed learning home maintenance skills in order to avoid costly repairs, how to get the most “bang for their buck” when remodeling, how to safe guard their financial investment from foreclosure and walked away with a gift card to Lowe’s to get started on their own DIY projects. On behalf of the staff here at The Housing Council at PathStone and all of our program graduates, thank you FiveStar Bank!

Interested in joining us for our next Post Purchase class? Call 585.546.3700 ext. 3035. 

Apartment, retail buildings on South Ave. set to open next week – 13wham.com

Apartment, retail buildings on South Ave. set to open next week

by: wham

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHAM) – Two new mixed-use buildings are set to open in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood next week.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, May 3 for the new Wedgepoint Apartments on South Avenue near Byron Street.

The two buildings will house 60 apartments in one, two and three-bedroom units. There will also be 4,900 square feet of retail space on the first floor of each building, which totals 68,000 square feet.

Both buildings already have more than 75 percent occupancy and one of the three commercial spaces is already being rented.

“With Wedgepoint, [PathStone developers] have transformed a vacant lot into the perfect gateway to the Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood,” said Judith Rose, Senior Relationship Manager with NeighborWorks America.

The building was financed through the City of Rochester, NYS Home, NYS Community Investment Fund, NYS Housing Trust Fund, NeighborWorks America and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (Federal & NYS), and The Community Preservation Corporation’s permanent loan funded through the NYS Common Retirement Fund.

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Proposed bill takes aim at New York landlords who try to force out tenants www.nydailynews.com

Proposed bill takes aim at New York landlords who try to force out tenants

by: Erin Durkin

A proposed state law would make it a crime for landlords to harass tenants to get them out of their apartments, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Wednesday.

The proposed bill would make it a misdemeanor for a landlord to engage in a course of conduct intended to drive a tenant from their home.

Landlords could face felony charges for going after tenants in two or more rent regulated apartments.

“Some bad landlords see rent regulated tenants as just a potential gold mine, and more than a few are looking to make a fast buck by harassing tenants out of their homes,” Schneiderman said at an East Harlem news conference.

“It has become clear that our state’s existing criminal laws are simply inadequate to address the reality of tenant harassment.”

Current law says landlords can only be charged with a crime if a tenant is physically injured, and prosecutors can prove the landlord intended to cause the injury.

Not a single landlord has been convicted under the law in the nearly two decades it has been on the books.

 “This is an absurdly high bar,” Schneiderman said.

The new legislation would allow charges against landlords who launch dust-spewing construction projects in hopes of forcing residents out, or cut off heat and hot water.

As the Daily News first reported Tuesday, the attorney general is also publishing a new “know your rights” guide for immigrant tenants after complaints landlords have threatened tenants who are in the country illegally.

Maria, a Ridgewood tenant who wouldn’t give her last name, said she’s battling her landlord after he tried to scare her into moving out.

“He told me if I didn’t leave the apartment, immigration would come and take away all the undocumented people who live in the apartment,” she said in Spanish.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the Council is also working on a package of legislation to make tenant harassment harder to prove.

“These initiatives will help ensure that the people who are most in need do not fall prey to unscrupulous landlords,” she said.

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A.G. Schneiderman Announces New Legislation To Criminally Crack Down On Tenant Harassment – ag.ny.gov

A.G. Schneiderman Announces New Legislation To Criminally Crack Down On Tenant Harassment

 

New Legislation Would Broaden And Strengthen Existing Tenant Harassment Laws, Make It Easier To Criminally Prosecute Landlords Who Force Rent-Regulated Tenants To Vacate

Schneiderman: With Affordable Housing As Scarce As Ever, It’s Time For Lawmakers To Give Prosecutors New Tools To Stop The Menacing – And Often Dangerous – Measures These Landlords Use To Force Tenants Out Of Their Homes

NEW YORK—Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman unveiled new legislation today aimed at holding the city’s most unscrupulous landlords criminally accountable for tenant harassment. Current state law demands prosecutors reach an inexplicably high bar in order to criminally charge landlords with harassment of rent-regulated tenants—which is why in the past twenty years, not a single landlord has ever been convicted of the crime of Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant. The AG’s legislation would change that, by setting a more reasonable standard that removes the need to prove physical injury to a tenant, and opens the door to prosecutions arising out of more commonplace and insidious tactics, such as turning off heat and hot water, exposing young children to lead dust, and making rent-stabilized buildings deliberately uninhabitable for current tenants and their families.

The legislation introduced today is just the most recent action taken by the AG to stem a rising tide of tenant harassment complaints across New York City. The AG’s other work includes:

“Our current laws are outdated, ineffective, and totally inadequate to keep tenants safe from unscrupulous landlords seeking to unlawfully evict New York families. With affordable housing as scarce as ever, it’s time for lawmakers to give prosecutors new tools to stop the menacing – and often dangerous – measures these landlords use to force tenants out of their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Protecting vulnerable tenants has been, and will remain, a top priority of my office.”

“Toughening up criminal penalties helps us level the playing field and protect tenants victimized by greedy, negligent landlords who put their own profit ahead of the rights of those paying the rent,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s move to make it harder for bad actors to harass tenants, and will join him in advocating for this important penal law change.”

“Stronger tenant harassment legislation will deter potential unconscionable acts and help tenants feel more secure in filing charges against any unscrupulous landlords,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for his work on this very important bill that will extend protections to all tenants. The New York City Council last week introduced a tenant harassment protections package of legislation that will work conjunction with this bill, and we will continue to partner with the Attorney General to protect everyone in our City — especially the most vulnerable.”

Under the existing Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant statute, a prosecutor must not only prove that the offending landlord intended to cause the tenant to vacate their home, but also that the tenant sustained physical injury due to the landlord’s actions and that the landlord actually intended to cause (or acted with criminal recklessness in causing) such injury. This existing Penal Law statute creates an inexplicably high bar that – in the nearly two decades since the law was enacted – has never been met. In fact, a recent analysis of NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services data shows that not a single landlord has ever been convicted of the crime of Harassment of a Rent Regulated Tenant.

The Attorney General’s legislation would eliminate the need to prove physical injury to a tenant, and a landlord’s specific intent to cause it, in order to secure a criminal conviction against an offending landlord. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Adds a new class A misdemeanor that would apply to landlords and their agents who, with the intent to cause a rent regulated tenant to vacate their home, engage in a “course of conduct” that is reasonably likely to, and does in fact, interfere with and disturb the comfort, repose, peace and quiet of such tenant in the use of their home;
  • Expands the existing class E felony Penal Law statute to make it unlawful for landlords or their agents to attempt to force tenants in two or more rent-regulated units to move out by engaging in a “systematic ongoing course of conduct” or “repeatedly committing acts over a period of time” that “is or are reasonably likely to interfere with and disturb, and does or do interfere with and disturb, the comfort, repose, peace and quiet” of such tenants in the use of their homes; and
  • Makes it a class E felony for a landlord to commit the new class A misdemeanor offense after he or she has been convicted of that crime within the preceding five years.

These provisions make it easier for prosecutors to curb common tactics used by landlords to force out tenants, including long and disruptive construction projects, deprivation of hot water and heat for extended periods of time. The new class A misdemeanor imposes a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. The class E felony carries a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison.

Earlier today, Attorney General Schneiderman released new “Know Your Rights” guidance for immigrant tenants facing landlord harassment on the basis of immigration status.

“Today’s announcement is significant in our efforts to protect tenants from harassment by landlords that have either threatened physical harm or caused injury in an attempt to get them to vacate their home. This bill will help provide real protections for innocent tenants who have been subjected to threats and harm by their landlords due to an ineffective Penal Law statute,” said U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

“Too often, unscrupulous landlords get away with tenant harassment and abuse because of outdated laws. Attorney General Schneiderman’s legislation will ensure that bad landlords can be held accountable for their criminal actions. We must continue to taking every action possible to protect tenants and ensure every New York has access to a safe and decent home,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.

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