Mayor Lovely Warren recently announced a new effort to promote homeownership in the city of Rochester. She wants to expand the homeownership tax breaks that the city currently offers in downtown Rochester to all city neighborhoods.
That program, called Core Housing Owner Incentive Exemption (CHOICE), has been successful in recent years at turning the once-desolate downtown Rochester into an area where people actually live. According to Gary Kirkmire of Neighborhood and Business Development, CHOICE offers a significant tax incentive to people who build homes and live in them, encouraging growth through owner-occupancies and construction in residential neighborhoods.
The incentive is a nine-year declining tax exemption on city, school, and county property taxes. In year one the exemption starts at 90% and is 10% by year nine. There are no discounts thereafter, but this steep cut on property taxes could be very helpful for new homeowners. Although the vast majority of American employees pay income taxes, which account for about half of federal revenue, the additional burden of property taxes is often what disrupts the dream of homeownership for many. Interested participants can claim the exemptions for new owner-occupied, market-rate housing construction or renovation. According to the Census Bureau, 30% of remodeling activity was major additions and alterations, 40% minor additions and alterations, and 30% maintenance and repair.
For 24% of recent home buyers, the primary reason for the recent home purchase was a desire to own a home, while 9% purchased due to a job-related relocation or move, and 8% bought for the desire to be in a better area or a change in family situation. Warren hopes that the structure of this new incentive will help close the gap between the assessed property values in various city neighborhoods and the cost of new construction.
“We have people who want to live, work and play in our city and we want to give them that opportunity and giving them that opportunity to actually build and design their home the way that they want, to design it on some of the land that we have available in many of our neighborhoods,” said Warren.
Imagine Monroe, a local industrial development agency, administers the tax agreement. The city is still seeking approval from Imagine Monroe to expand CHOICE to other neighborhoods in Rochester. If approved, the program would allow for single-family homes — the median of which is about 2,386 square feet — and two-family homes that are owner-occupied. Homeowners can even combine CHOICE with other incentive programs. According to Kirkmire, developers such as Habitat for Humanity and Greater Rochester Housing Partnership can take advantage of the program as well.
It’s important to note that studies show that the average amount it takes to sell a house in the U.S. is around $15,200. The city’s plan could also open the door to new housing options, including tiny houses. Down state, specially in Suffolk County, the median home price is $415,000. Records show that these homes would likely be most appealing to empty nesters and millennials. While empty nesters may see the draw in tiny houses in their ability to downsize, millennials are looking to grow financially, with about 96% of millennial investors interested in making a real estate investment. A tiny house offers an affordable option while still giving millennial investors a viable piece of real estate.
Despite the city’s insistence that CHOICE is a successful program, some critics think otherwise. Democratic City Council candidate Mary Lupien has seen CHOICE’s impact and believes that it favors the wealthy. Lupien says that the focus on middle and high-income neighborhoods is a focus on development that doesn’t need financial support. She instead points to the many vacant lots in Rochester that need investment.
“If it is not targeted, the CHOICE program will further gentrification and increase inequality,” Lupien said in a joint statement released by her and Rachel Barnhart, Democratic nominee for Monroe County legislator.
Barnhart has said that the majority of people who will apply for the tax break would have built anyway. According to Barnhardt, the break wouldn’t encourage homeownership for renters who occupy some of the 42.58 million housing units in the United States, but simply help the wealthy build homes they would have built anyways. She points to the new builds on East Avenue and Park Avenue that have happened in the last decade without assistance from CHOICE.
Lupien believes that focusing on other programs in which construction is already subsidized could help more low-income residents get into homeownership. As the United States is the second largest construction market in the world and continues to see growth, the price of new home construction is often beyond the budgets of low-income residents. If a program subsidizes the cost of construction, these residents could more often afford becoming homeowners. Lupien sees this outcome as a huge step for the Rochester community.
In the face of these criticisms, Kirkmire counters that low-income neighborhoods would not be shut out because market-rate prices would be proportionate to the area. He maintains that if the program helps develop all 600 vacant lots in the city, all of the city’s residents would be able to benefit.
City Council still needs to approve the CHOICE expansion proposal before it goes into effect. The public will be able to give input on the proposal as well.
The city of Rochester is gearing up for a few major construction projects that are all looking to change its current landscape and affordability. One program that will shift the housing market in Rochester is the Mission-Based Affordable Housing Partnership.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James came to Rochester on May 18 to announce to program. According to the announcement, the program will grant up to $1.4 million to mission-based organizations that are looking to develop available land into affordable housing. Nonprofit civic institutions will also be eligible for the grant. This program will extend beyond Rochester into Erie county as well as areas of Central New York and the Capital Region.
When James visited earlier in the month, she met with local political and faith leaders at F.I.G.H.T Village, a champion of affordable housing in Rochester led by Minister Clifford Florence. The organization has been pushing for affordable housing in Rochester since the 1960s. Its challenges lie in combatting the placement of low-income families in cheap but old homes that present dangers such as lead paint, which is still present in about 57 million homes in the United States.
“We’re fighting with racism, we’re fighting with the lack of jobs, affordable housing, education. So the issues are the same as they were 50 years ago, but we have to have the will to do what it takes to change it,” Florence said.
With the new partnership, organizations like F.I.G.H.T will finally be able to give Rochester residents a permanent solution for stable and economical housing. Too often, homeowners facing financial troubles turn to temporary fixes such as hard money loans, which typically have a loan-to-value ratio in the 60% to 70% range. Now F.I.G.H.T will be able to give residents another option by working with trustworthy developers. These professionals can help guide organizations through the construction processes, which are often long and complicated. For instance, unlike traditional mudjacking where a minimum waiting period of 24 hours is necessary, builders can use raised concrete right away.
A typical family spends about a third of its annual heating and cooling budget — roughly $350 — on air that leaks into or out of the house through unintended gaps and cracks.Since there are around 17 million shipping containers in the world, and only 6 million of these in use — approximately 11 million shipping containers are currently unused and could be converted into affordable homes for people all over the United States.
The Flower City Habitat for Humanity and the Autism Council of Rochester are also partnering to bring housing for an underserved community in the city. The two organizations plan to develop autism-friendly homes for families that have children with autism.
Not only will the program get more families closer to being homeowners, the number of which in the country is down to 63.4% from 69% in 2004, but it will also provide the space and modifications that children with autism need.
Objects such as compression swings can help balance the behavior and emotions of children with autism, but they don’t fit very easily into a two-bedroom apartment. The housing will also include sound and light sensitivity and a stockade fence in the backyard that measures six to eight feet high to ensure kids don’t wander into the streets while they play.
The final piece of news in Rochester construction is the proposed Rochester 2034 comprehensive plan. This plan aims to increase density and create more varied uses for certain city arterials. According to city officials, the proposal won’t result in many dramatic changes, but will instead reinforce or restore the downtown area’s historic form and character.
The rezoning efforts would aim to balance the stark differences in poverty rates, education levels, unemployment, minority population share, and more seen between the neighborhoods with the highest and lowest demands. In the southeast and crescent, two areas that are polar opposites to one another, two-thirds of residences are rentals. This is higher than the citywide average and with 33% of renters moving every year, there isn’t much permanency in either of these zones.
No official zoning changes are underway now, but they will go be brought to the neighborhoods and go through normal approvals when it comes time.
The plan will also focus on street-level retail around the East End area, Sibley Square, and Midtown. Establishments like local restaurants and independent coffee shops, which have about $12 billion in annual sales, will help guide the rezoning process in these areas.
The proposal is both more flexible in regulations regarding minimum lot sizes and parking and more adamant about higher standards for the design of mixed-use and multi-family building projects. Although no details of the plan are definite quite yet, the city will hire a consultant to review its zoning code and map once the plan is adopted.
People of color in central New York aren’t getting a fair number of jobs in the construction industry, a local study finds. According to a new study by the Urban Jobs Task Force and the Legal Services of Central New York, there’s a major racial disparity in the New York construction industry despite people of color making up a quarter of the state population.
Dodge Data & Analytics’ 2016 Construction Outlook report predicted 6% growth, with the value of construction starts reaching an estimated $712 billion. Researchers analyzed a group of construction projects taking place in New York state including the I-690 project, the Syracuse Hancock Airport Renovations, and the Lakeview Amphitheater in Onondaga.
Researchers found that 88% of the construction workers on these projects were white. Approximately 4% of workers were black or indigenous and only a few workers were Hispanic and Asian.
“Workforces are white in Central New York and we’ve seen it driving by them,” said Andrew Croom, an attorney from Legal Services of Central New York who worked on the study. “Was I ready for how white they were? No.”
The U.S. construction industry is usually a good place for American workers to earn money. Construction projects have public money in them paid for by tax dollars, beneficiaries of government grants, or tax breaks. In 2016 alone, the construction market was worth $1,162 billion and the composite materials market is expected to reach $38 billion by 2023.
The lack of inclusivity in the industry is concerning for many reasons, but especially because it keeps impoverished New Yorkers from finding good-paying jobs. Up to 16% of Rochesterians are living in extreme poverty and 15% of those in Monroe County live below the poverty line.
“You know, living in a city that’s 50% minority and 50% white, I expected a project like I-690 that’s two blocks from my house to be represented by the city where it is,” said Croom. “And it was so far from that, that yes, I found [these] results shocking.”
Urban Jobs President Deka Dancil says there are historical reasons why many people of color aren’t working in construction. The construction of Interstate 81 caused economic and racial segregation, urban renewal, and redlining.
“[This] made the networks of minorities only be with other poor minorities,” said Dancil. “And the networks of white people, for people who had the paying jobs, [were] exposed to the construction trade. I tell you … my whole time growing up in high school, I never even heard a thing about it.”
Dancil also points out that barriers such as non-paid training, lack of transportation, and lack of childcare prevent those who are already living in poverty from getting into construction programs that could lead to higher paying jobs.
Croom says that there are ways to ensure inclusivity in construction projects. LA Metro in Los Angeles is creating workforce agreements within their PLAs and have unions in the community working together.
New York state could see more collaboration with unions and have them more actively recruit in the city with targeted training, Croom says. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh recently launched Syracuse Build in an effort to train those in the city who are looking to work on the I-81 project.
However, Dancil says she isn’t as optimistic after seeing years of meetings on the topic of boosting inclusivity in the construction industry. The voices of local residents need to join those of policymakers, she says.
“I think what it comes down to [is] that there has to be a big table,” says Croom, “there has to be collective action to say ‘we’re all here. We all want the same thing.’ So, we have to work together to make those policies.”
Hard to believe it’s been almost an entire year, but we’re back (expect future RocLinks on Saturdays), and it’s time to roll! From local development to just plain news of the weird, here are your RocLinks for this past week…
RocSubway is excited to share with you some exclusive pictures of an exciting downtown development. 210 South Avenue is currently being transformed into future commercial and residential space in the heart of downtown Rochester. The building currently known as the Merkel Donohue building—and its connected buildings—will be transformed into a mix of commercial & residential space and will go by the name of Woodbury Place…
The area around University of Rochester—both east and west of the river—has seen an explosion of new construction. RocSubway contributor Jimmy Combs ventured out this weekend to get a snapshot of the progress of three of these developments; College Town, The Flats at Brooks Crossing, and the new Golisano Children’s Hospital. All are due to open by 2015…
The latest Midtown renderings from Buckingham Properties are a promising sign of things to come. Still, it’s difficult to ignore this 18-story skeleton which has been looming over Rochester’s streets since 2011. When most people look up at this hulking mass of steel and concrete they see a blemish on the Rochester skyline. But for one urban explorer, this is a photo op.
The same anonymous photographer who took us inside Terrence Tower and the Sykes Datatronics building, climbed to the tippy top of midtown last week. He submitted this collection of photos and the following narrative…
In 2012 we were surprised to learn that RGRTA had dug up the foundation of the RKO Palace Theater while excavating for the new transit terminal. This week, Jim Memmott reported on some more fantastic treasures that were unearthed at the same site. Some time last year seven heavy stones (some weighing a ton) were pulled up from depths of up to 30 feet below street level. Each stone bore a symbol of the Freemasons…
For the past few weeks workers have been attacking a 100 ton hunk of slag that was discovered at the Port of Rochester last spring. Yesterday I noticed the giant plume of smoke from the O’rorke Bridge and made my way down to the scene of this epic battle. When the dust settles, who will remain standing? Man? Or The Slag?
David DiPonzio, a firefighter with the Lake Shore Fire District in Greece, sent me these photos (taken by friend Fred Amato) of a strange-looking crater in the middle of the parking lot at Ontario Beach Park. An asteroid? Uh, not quite. This may be the most interesting archeological find since RGRTA dug up the RKO Palace. That big rock you see in the center of the crater is actually a giant hunk of slag – left over from the iron or steel mill that once operated here…
The photo above was taken in January, 2011. Late last year we looked at the plans for the new public spaces at Midtown Plaza. Work on the site is now progressing quickly – and those plan drawings are becoming reality. The old Midtown buildings are gone. The new Windstream building is mostly complete. And this week, the first street curbs have been installed giving shape to the new Cortland Street. Here’s a birds-eye view of the past 30 months progress…
After the Erie Canal was rerouted south of downtown Rochester, the Rochester
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