ROCHESTER — Several years ago, Luana Jackson-Gaffney needed to downsize from the single-family home in the Corn Hill neighborhood in which she lived with her son.
One of her daughters told her about a housing lottery being conducted by Providence Housing Development Corp., a diocesan affiliate that develops and manages affordable housing. Jackson-Gaffney saw applications for the lottery while making a tuition payment for her son at Rochester’s Holy Rosary School, picked one up, submitted it and soon received notice of her lottery number.
“There were so many people ahead of me,” she said.
That’s why she was shocked to learn that she had received the chance to live in a brand-new apartment in Providence’s Carlson Commons in Rochester.
“I know it was the divine will of the Lord,” said Jackson-Gaffney, speaking in her townhome on Coretta Scott Crossing. “I feel blessed. I walk through and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’”
Since incorporating as a nonprofit agency in 1994, Providence has helped place hundreds of people like
Jackson-Gaffney in homes throughout the diocese. This success has come despite decreased federal funding for affordable housing, the need for which is ever-increasing, according to Providence’s Executive Director Monica McCullough.
During the last 13 years, Providence has received funding for 631 units of new affordable housing and has managed 557 units on 17 properties.
Since 1994, it also has provided services to 221 families and individuals through its Shelter+Care program, a rental-assistance program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In that time, it has leveraged $18.8 million in mortgages for first-time homebuyers and provided one-on-one counseling to more than 1,500 families. Since 1998 it also has provided homeownership education to another 1,055 families.
Providence has been busy this year, agency officials said, noting that in March ground was broken in Lyons for Crowley House, a six-bedroom community residence for people with developmental disabilities. Officials also have celebrated three ribbon cuttings this year, including the February opening of Ehr-Dale Heights in Churchville, which has 33 units for seniors. In May, representatives cut the ribbon on McNiff Commons in Elmira, an 11-unit home for mentally ill people.
Also in May, Providence officials cut the ribbon on the 48 new townhomes that make up Carlson Commons, the second phase of the 144-unit Olean-Kennedy Revitalization Project. The first phase of the project, Plymouth Manor, is located across the street and includes 28 townhome rental units. The development also includes a total of 68 homes — 61 new units and seven rehabilitated existing homes — located on scattered lots in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood and on Fulton Avenue less than a mile from the main site.
“They are big players, and very experienced nonprofit developers,” Julio Vazquez, commissioner of community development for the City of Rochester, said of Providence.
Providence is now waiting to hear if it will receive funding for a new Olean-Kennedy phase that would include 32 homes for rent on scattered sites in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. That neighborhood wins raves from Jackson-Gaffney, a mother of four who is a student at Bryant and Stratton College and plans to continue her education by studying criminal justice.
“You have a right to a place to live, but this is a privilege to move into a home no one has ever lived in,” said Jackson-Gaffney, who moved to Carlson Commons in December and has become involved in the development’s tenants’ association.
Developers are hoping that the pride Jackson-Gaffney and her neighbors have in their homes will translate into them being good, involved neighbors.
A housing revolution
The move to provide high-quality affordable housing that engenders pride is a new trend, said affordable-housing developer Roger Brandt Jr., president of Rochester’s Cornerstone Group, which, along with the Rochester Housing Authority, teamed with Providence on Carlson Commons.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Brandt said, developers of affordable housing tried to cut costs by using lower-quality materials and crowding as many families as possible onto a piece of land. Quality-of-life features such as storage space, basements, green space and playgrounds often were small or overlooked, he said.
“The units were small and lacked many of the conveniences we are accustomed to in our lives,” Anthony P. DiBiase, executive director of the Rochester Housing Authority, observed during the Carlson Commons ribbon cutting May 4.
As a result, affordable-housing complexes often had high turnover rates and were often plagued by crime, violence and drug dealing, Brandt said.
That was the case with the original Olean and Kennedy Townhomes projects, which were built during the 1960s and 1970s, developers said. As part of the Olean-Kennedy Revitalization Project — the city’s largest housing-project revitalization in more than 30 years — the old townhomes were razed and rebuilt.
The $45 million Carlson Commons development consists of immaculate single-family homes and duplexes with postage-stamp-sized yards lining a curving road that is quiet except for a few construction workers. Gone are the drug dealers on the corner.
“It’s been quite a transformation of which we are really proud,” Brandt said prior to the ribbon cutting.
Some aspects of the transformation are not obvious to those passing by the complex. The name, for example, was chosen to pay homage to the late Jeffrey T. Carlson, a former deputy mayor of Rochester who championed affordable-housing projects. Also, the complex was built to exceed state green-building standards by 30 percent, Brandt said.
Additionally, tenants at a variety of income levels in the Olean-Kennedy project’s scattered-site homes will ideally rent toward owning their homes, bringing stability to their neighborhoods, McCullough said. That program will begin in 15 years, once tax credits on the homes expire. The idea is to allow people not only to take pride in where they live, but to harness their energy by getting them involved in neighborhood groups working to keep out undesirable elements, she said.
“People feel ownership over their yard and their space, and create a defensible space,” she said.
Plans for development in the Plymouth-Exchange area do not stop with Carlson Commons. The city is planning a homebuilding expo to build 14 new homes as part of the Olean-Kennedy project. The city would subsidize the project with 10- to 15-year mortgages for first-time homebuyers. The intent, McCullough said, is to pair public housing with privately-owned homes to mix incomes and stabilize neighborhoods.
Providence also has applied for funding to rehabilitate or build 32 scattered-site homes for the Olean-Kennedy project’s third phase.
“Our goal is to build bulk
around what we’ve started,” McCullough said.
Providence has four other projects that are awaiting funding: a second phase of its Shortsville Meadows project in Shortsville; a second phase of Chili’s Union Meadows which was built in 1998; a 45-unit project on the campus of St. Salome Church in Irondequoit; and a scattered-site home-rehabilitation project that will be built in the northwest area of Rochester through a partnership with the nonprofit NCS.
Brandt said Providence’s projects have been so successful that developers have wanted to return for expansions. But in spite of positive reviews, future projects are not a sure thing.
“Our biggest problem is that there’s not enough money to support all the projects,” McCullough said.
The Olean-Kennedy project was funded by a mix of federal, state and private dollars, McCullough said. At the Carlson Commons ribbon cutting, former Syracuse mayor Roy Bernardi, now HUD’s deputy secretary, announced that in 2007, Rochester will receive $14.2 million in federal affordable-housing funds, with several small portions of that funding being dedicated to first-time homebuyers, emergency-shelter projects, home-repair programs and housing for people with HIV and AIDS.
“These funds will continue to ensure that Rochester continues to grow,” Bernardi said.
Yet the City of Rochester is receiving about $2.6 million less from HUD than it did five years ago.
“In the last four to five years, we have lost 18 percent of federal funding for Community Development Block Grants and 16 percent for the HOME (affordable-housing) program,” Vazquez said.
Decreased HUD funding coupled with a multimillion-dollar budget gap for the City of Rochester has forced the city to downsize affordable-housing programs and reconsider how it uses its remaining dollars, Vazquez said. Rochester, which lost 5 percent of its population between 1990 and 2000, recently conducted a study of its housing needs. He said the study’s results will be used to pick four neighborhoods where the city can target future funding of affordable-housing projects.
Though a committee of 30 has not yet made recommendations on which neighborhoods should be chosen, portions of the study dealing with city needs are available online at http://rochesterhousingstudy.com, Vazquez said. Planners hope to measure the success of affordable-housing efforts and not move on until a neighborhood has been turned around, he said.
“At this point, we don’t know which neighborhoods will be selected,” said Vazquez, who noted the committee’s recommendations could be available in a few months.
Some private funding of affordable-housing projects also might be a possibility. For example, the Greater Rochester Housing Partnership’s Rochester Equity Fund was created to plug gaps in funding for affordable housing. The fund received a boost when the United Way of Greater Rochester agreed to match $1 of every $3 committed to the Rochester Equity Fund by local banks and foundations. Two Providence projects have benefited from the fund: its homeownership program, which reduces homebuying costs for low-income families, and the Olean-Kennedy project’s scattered-site apartments.
Other efforts to establish a communitywide affordable-housing trust fund have stalled, and now interfaith groups are working to get a dedicated source of funding for the state’s housing trust fund, said Brian Kane, executive director of Interfaith Action, a federation of area churches, organizations and businesses.
In addition to advocating for greater funding for affordable-housing projects, Providence also is looking to develop new projects outside of Monroe County.
“We’re looking in Tioga County because there is a big need in that area,” McCullough said. “The same is true in Livingston County and Cayuga County.”
One challenge is that federal funding formulas use the same average incomes for Rochester and some rural outlying areas such as Livingston County. The amount of funding given to build an affordable-housing project is based in part on the rents future tenants will pay.
McCullough said a rent considered affordable in the Rochester metropolitan area often is too expensive for rural renters. That’s why developers are particularly challenged to build economically in rural affordable-housing projects or find a source of rental subsidy, she said.
Providence has sought funding from HUD’s Section 8 rental subsidy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development rental-assistance programs, McCullough said. Federal funding was used to help seniors with incomes of less than 50 percent of the area average who wanted to live in the Ehr-Dale Heights project in Churchville.
But each year, rental-assistance funding is in danger of being cut from the federal budget, McCullough said.
“It’s so crucial in this area,” she noted.
And Providence often has to win over neighbors in the communities where it proposes to build affordable-housing projects.
“It’s an educational process for us to go out to the community to try to help them understand that affordable housing can be integrated into the community,” McCullough said.
Yet, on the day of a ribbon cutting, all those struggles seem to melt in the face of gratitude from people such as Jackson-Gaffney.
“We can’t ask for a better place to call home,” she said.
Isla Housing provides Hispanics with affordable living options
For 40 years, Lillian Karnes played the organ at St. Michael Church in Rochester. That’s why the retired organist said she is happy to be living near the church where she has spent so much of her time.
Karnes is one of several dozen residents of St. Michael’s I Senior Apartments, which is located in the converted school building next to the church.
“It is very affordable, and it’s the best place I have ever lived in,” Karnes said. “It’s beautiful here.”
St. Michael’s I Senior Apartments, which is owned and managed by Isla Housing and Development Corp., includes 28 apartments for elderly and disabled people. Isla also is building a second phase of the project, which will consist of 30 apartments for low-income seniors ages 62 and older.
“Everything is handicapped accessible,” said Sonia Nu√±ez, executive director of the nonprofit agency. “There’s a gym. Everything is brand new, and there are large bathrooms.”
Nu√±ez said Isla got its start in 1982 as Ibero-American Housing. Later, the organization changed names but kept its commitment to finding housing for the Hispanic community and the elderly in the northeast section of Rochester. Isla Housing and Development Corp. also owns and manages Pride House on St. Paul Street, which is home to Catholic Family Center and Group 14621’s Community Education Program.
Most of the clients who live in Isla’s senior housing are Hispanic. To keep rents affordable, some clients also receive assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 program, Nu√±ez said.
Isla does not just limit itself to apartment buildings. It also has rehabilitated about 15 homes through the Greater Rochester Housing Partnership’s HOME Rochester program. After the homes have been redone, they are sold to low-income first-time homebuyers, many of whom who are Hispanic. In 2006, a family of four that made less than $51,300 could qualify for the program, according to the housing partnership. These new property owners only have to provide a $1,500 down payment, and Isla promises to pay 30 percent of their mortgage, she said.
Isla also works with homebuyers to make sure they establish good credit and are financially prepared to purchase a home, Nu√±ez said, adding that the agency’s classes for potential homebuyers teach participants how to be responsible homeowners.
Clients are happy to learn that everything in the renovated homes has been fixed up, including windows, doors and furnaces, she said.
“They won’t have to do any repairs (immediately) on the property,” Nu√±ez said.