Group advocates for housing fund - Catholic Courier

Group advocates for housing fund

ROCHESTER — Interfaith Action, a Monroe County federation of congregations and businesses, including several Catholic parishes, is calling for the creation of a $90 million Neighborhood Trust Fund to support efforts to improve housing and commercial development.

Interfaith’s partners include the Diocese of Rochester, and the organization has received funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishop’s anti-poverty program.

Several Interfaith members, including a number affiliated with Catholic parishes, spoke in support of the trust fund’s creation during an Oct. 23 public meeting with state, county and City of Rochester officials, which was held at Bethel Christian Fellowship on East Avenue. Those attending included Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks. After being asked by Interfaith representatives, all of the politicians and political representatives present pledged support for the creation of a task force within 60 days to identify revenue sources for the trust fund and to explore partly funding it using a state grant and local matching funds.

At the meeting, various city residents spoke about the problems they’re experiencing because of the conditions of their neighborhoods. One man spoke about witnessing drug-dealing, prostitution, burglaries and shootings. Another resident noted that she became active in her neighborhood after becoming frustrated with a drug house next door to her home that was rife with illegal activity, including gunfire.

Neighborhood blight and deterioration fosters the dangers that such residents experience, according to Bill Henning, a member of the federated leadership team of Interfaith, as well a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Rochester.

“Studies show that better housing conditions improve family stability and educational attainment,” he added.

During the meeting, Henning gave a presentation about the housing crisis in both Rochester and Monroe County as a whole. He noted that Interfaith had talked to more than 2,500 families and 107 community organizations, government agencies and other groups to gather information.

“Residents and business owners told us how they are losing their family legacy,” Henning told the hundreds who attended the meeting. “They have invested in homes and commercial properties, only to see their values dramatically decline over the past 20 years.”

Rochester has the third oldest housing stock in America, he said, and it requires extensive maintenance. Meanwhile, the city’s population continues to decline, and many people in the city would like to buy a house, but can’t due to credit problems and/or lack of income. Furthermore, “inner-ring” suburbs bordering the city, including eastern Greece, Gates, Irondequoit and East Rochester, are experiencing such problems as stagnant or declining property values, in part due to housing vacancies, he said.

“One Interfaith Action leader reports that she bought her house 21 years ago for $41,000,” Henning said. “She and her husband invested another $30,000 in improvements. Today, (the house’s) assessed value is just $40,000.”

City officials, he added, estimate there is an immediate need to rehabilitate or build 3,455 units of rental housing at the cost of nearly $32.5 million. In addition, the officials said there is an immediate need to rehabilitate or build 1,175 owner-occupied units at a cost of more than $11.6 million. Meanwhile, a decline in property values in the city has resulted in a decline in property-tax revenue, he said, adding that city and county governments are both experiencing budget challenges.

“Although many city and nonprofit agencies are diligently at work trying to address this problem, all of them agree that the only solution is a substantial increase in new investments into our neighborhoods,” Henning said.

He added that Interfaith envisions the trust fund being operated by a newly created not-for-profit organization, and noted that more than 300 such trust funds have been established throughout the country. Interfaith officials added that such trust funds may leverage between seven to 18 times their value in additional funding.

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