Diocese steps up housing efforts - Catholic Courier

Diocese steps up housing efforts

The Diocese of Rochester has used both words and deeds to promote affordable housing, its top public-policy issue for this year.

Diocesan officials have employed a petition drive aimed at increasing New York state aid to housing projects, and also have served as key partners in expanding affordable-housing developments within the diocese.

Providence Housing Development Corp., an affiliate of the Diocese of Rochester, has been at the forefront of a number of new housing initiatives. Construction began in late June on one of Providence’s 2005 efforts, the $12 million Kennedy Project, on which the agency collaborated with the Rochester Housing Authority, the City of Rochester and Rochester’s Cornerstone Group Ltd., a real-estate developer.

The project is designed to increase the availability of affordable housing in southwest Rochester, according to Maggie Bringewatt, executive director of Providence.

“Almost any vacant lot in the city’s southwest, we’ll be building on,” she said.

According to Bringewatt, the project includes the following elements:

* Construction of 28 apartments, mostly duplexes, which will have driveways and back yards. The apartments will be located on the former site of the now-demolished Kennedy Townhomes, the city’s oldest public-housing project.

* Construction of 39 additional units — mostly single-family houses — at scattered sites.

* Designation of 11 housing units, out of the total 67, for families with a grandparent or a child with a disability. Bringewatt said these families are currently being served by Catholic Family Center’s Kinship Care Resource Network, which assists families in which grandparents are raising grandchildren.

In addition to the Kennedy Project, Providence is also partnering with Cornerstone to construct the $14 million Olean Project, which will feature 77 new units. Among them will be 48 duplexes slated for construction on the former site of the Olean Townhouses, located across the street from Kennedy Townhomes. The remainder will be single-family homes built on scattered sites, Bringewatt said.

Bringewatt said families who will eventually live in the Olean and Kennedy projects will be income-eligible for public housing.

Both projects are funded through a variety of private, city, state and federal sources, according to Bringewatt, who noted Kennedy and Olean will have a positive impact on the southwest side of Rochester.

“The vacant lots will be gone,” she said. “There will be new lawns, new landscaping — people living there will take ownership of the property in the neighborhood.”

However, she stressed that the community must continue to work to provide decent housing for all.

“These projects combined will address less than 5 percent of the demand for affordable housing,” Bringewatt said, citing statistics showing more than 4,000 Rochester-area families are on waiting lists for affordable housing.

She added that Providence is also currently working on a new project outside Penn Yan in Yates County. Funded by the state and federal governments, the Benton Project will feature a six-resident group home for people with disabilities who currently are being served by Catholic Charities Community Services. Meanwhile, she noted, Providence and Cornerstone broke ground in July on a 20-unit affordable-apartment project in the Village of Shortsville in Ontario County.

In addition to such bricks-and-mortar efforts, the diocese has been working to obtain more affordable housing through political means. During the weekend of Feb. 5-6, the Diocesan Public Policy Committee invited parishioners throughout the diocese to sign petitions calling for 5,000 new units to be created through new construction, the renewal of previously subsidized projects whose initial periods are expiring and the addition of state funding to the Section 8 program, a federally funded subsidy program that enables low-income families to afford decent, privately owned rental housing.

Jann K. Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, said that more than 10,000 signatures were eventually gathered. She added that the New York state budget passed earlier this year contained $25 million in additional capital funding for affordable-housing construction.

“Our efforts were not in vain!” she wrote in an April letter to pastors and pastoral associates. “It is edifying to think that our concerns were heard and responded to by our representatives.”

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