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City Homeowner Fights to Keep Her Home

February 22nd, 2013

Mary Smith is fighting to keep her home of 30 years. [PHOTO: Julie Gelfand]
Mary Smith has lived at 53 Cutler Street external link on the city’s north side for 30 years. After her husband died, and some serious health problems (spinal surgeries and years of therapy) Mary says she fell behind on her taxes – by about $30,000. The City of Rochester and Monroe County then sold her tax debt to a Florida company called American Tax Funding external link. Mary says she now has the ability to pay her debt, but American Tax Funding will not negotiate. On Tuesday, they may throw her out of her house and auction off the property. Volunteers with a group called Take Back the Land external link is helping Mary with a petition external link to ask CEO, Matthew A. Marini, to cancel the foreclosure auction and negotiate a settlement…

On Saturday, February 6, the day after a snow storm, 16 canvassers joined Mary to visit her neighbors with her petition. [PHOTO: Julie Gelfand]
These photos external link of Mary, her family and home, were taken by Julie Gelfand of Take Back the Land.

Mary in her kitchen which is painted her favorite color blue. [PHOTO: Julie Gelfand]
Mary says her identity is closely tied with her home and community. “I want and need to get back ownership of the home that I love. My community is a major part of my life. I feel a deep commitment to my neighborhood and my neighbors.”

This poster in Mary's living room recognizes her community volunteer efforts. Next to Mary's poster is another in memory of her grandaughter Shawntayvia Williams. [PHOTO: Julie Gelfand]
Mary’s been an active member of the Cutler PLUS Community Block Club since 1983, and is currently its vice president. “I want to continue to live in the community that I have nurtured and cared for… I deserve thanks, not foreclosure.”

Mary with one of her daughters, and a selection of grandchildren. [PHOTO: Julie Gelfand]
If American Tax Funding does not agree to work out a settlement, Take Back the Land members say there will be a protest at the Feb. 26 foreclosure auction and “community defense of a possible eviction.” In the past, Take Back the Land has assisted other Rochester homeowners in negotiating with the City, rallying community support, and ultimately drawing attention to an imperfect and inhumane system.

UPDATE: 13 WHAM News said last night external link that American Tax Funding is working with Smith’s attorney on an arraignment that is expected to keep her home off the auction block. There may also be assistance from the City according to Councilwoman Carloee Conklin.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2013 at 9:25 am and is filed under Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “City Homeowner Fights to Keep Her Home”

  1. Matthew Denker says:

    This is a terribly unfortunate situation compounded by the fact that she could probably buy her own house back at auction for less than she owes in taxes on it. The community might be better served to do that than to protest.

    Side note that at the current $1,500 a year city tax bill, this is 15 years+ of not paying taxes. That’s a little disheartening.

  2. Jim Fraser says:

    Matthew,
    You are absolutely right. The debt of unpaid taxes is hefty. It should never have gone this far. But I also think that the current crisis derives from the bulk sales of tax liens to ATF, a for-profit firm in Florida. But whether the firm or the city (or both) are at fault is not the issue. The big city hammer or the foreclosure factory hammer – no good options for individual cases that fall between the cracks, as Ms. Smith apparently did when she incurred a debilitating medical condition.

    City Hall can’t possibly deal with all exceptional cases effectively. There needs to be an entity somewhere in between, which can negotiate an arrangement suited to the circumstances. Here, that role is filled by Take Back the Land, a group that follows a protest model. Traditionally, the needs gap was filled by neighborhoods, or in larger cities, by what Jane Jacobs referred to as administrative districts. “Death and Life” chapter 21 lays it out. Bottom-up approaches can be more responsive, more pro-active, and less of a drain on city resources.

    My advocacy is focused on the rebuilding of vital neighborhood organizations as foundational to the wellbeing of cities. Which your placemaking activity helps me to do, by the way. I see many costs arising from the demise of traditional neighborhoods – this issue is only one. The current fiscal squeeze is another, perhaps the most visible. By imposing one-size-fits-all solutions on neighborhoods from above, city governments are merely shifting problems around.

    I would much rather see the city in the role of helping neighborhoods to organize, then devolving all feasible authority onto them. It’s what Andres Duany refers to as ‘subsidiarity’. The enabling technologies are well in place. Institutional momentum and a lack of vision seem to be the only impediments to the coming transformation of urbanism.

  3. Matthew Denker says:

    Well said. Community building has to be the answer. The world is made of special cases, and each deserves attention. You are right, though, the current tax base does not support that attention. Thank you for a really excellent comment.


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