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Let's make Rochester a place that's affordable for everyone

Let's make Rochester a place that's affordable for everyone

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of affordable housing in Rochester over the last few months, which is a really good thing. But as the talk has increased, I’ve felt a growing concern that the conversations have been missing something. It seemed like the only people having a voice are the city officials “studying” the issue, the elected officials who aren’t facing these issues themselves, and the lobbyist who are more concerned with their profits and avoiding regulations than actually making sure families have a safe place to live.

That is why I joined Communities United for Rochester Empowerment (CURE) and why I have been speaking out. This isn’t a new issue for me, nor is it a “political” issue. Like thousands of people in Rochester, it is my life.

I’m working full time, 12 hour shifts each weekend at a temp service while going to a job training program during the week to advance my career. But I’m struggling each month to pay the rent of my 2-bedroom apartment for myself and two teenagers. The rent has gone up over $125 over the past two years and if it goes up again my family will be in a serious pickle. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you can’t afford to save money for things like car repairs or other expenses that pop up. I’ve lived here for 11 years and I feel like I’m being pushed out so DMC money can come in and build luxury condos for…who?

If my story was unique, that would be one thing, but it is not. CURE has shown me that what I’m facing is more common than I knew. That is awful. When the City Council and Mayor talk percentage this or median value that, all I hear is them saying that there isn’t a problem. How can that be? Do we not exist?

Through community meetings, our group has come up with a plan that we proposed to the City Council that would increase affordable housing in Rochester by 20%. I’m happy to say the city has adopted our 20% recommendation for rental development receiving TIF funding, but they defined affordable as twice the amount that we do, meaning many low- and moderate-income people will still not be able to afford the new "affordable units."

Further, the city proposal has loopholes for developers to opt-out of providing affordable units even while receiving public funds in exchange for city money. Additionally, the city proposal doesn't benefit homeowners or potential homeowners at all. As we work to fix our current crisis, we shouldn’t leave anyone behind.

The other part of our proposal is the creation of a Community Advisory Committee that would include the voices of low and moderate income people in the development of an affordable housing policy for Rochester. This seems like a common sense proposal not just for housing issues, but for everything the Council is working on. Our tax dollars pay their salary and pay for the projects they are working on, so it would only make sense to have real community input on matters that impact our families.

We know we are going up against powerful forces that will lobby for no regulations on housing so they can scoop up all of the DMC money for themselves and build luxury housing that will help make the rich even richer. But we can’t let that happen.

Our taxes went up for DMC, and it would be wrong if the changes coming mean even more working families get pushed out because of it. We need our elected officials to represent all of us, not just Mayo and rich developers. This doesn’t seem like it should be a controversial issue. While the supposed future benefits of DMC remain fuzzy at best to working people in Rochester, the harm that the affordable housing crisis is causing to our families is very real. Now is the time for us to decide who we are as a city.

Will Rochester become a rich island that pushes out everyone who can’t afford luxury housing? Or will it be a place where we all came together to make sure everyone, regardless of income, race, zip code or job title, can find a safe, affordable place to live and be part of our community?

I know that CURE won’t give up the fight for affordable housing, along with decent transit and good jobs, the things make a community a place that works for everyone. I hope the City Council will listen to our ideas, join us in our goal of making Rochester a place that is affordable for everyone, and use their power to do what is right.

Wendy Gill is a Rochester resident and member of Communities United for Rochester Empowerment. 

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