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Debate on rent laws continues at hearing in Rochester

James Brown WXXI

State lawmakers heard from Rochester-area tenants and advocates Friday in the latest in a series of Assembly hearings on housing rights.

Advocates are pushing for changes to decades-old housing laws, asking for rent controls that are common in New York City to be implemented upstate, among other changes.

Tierra Tazell nearly broke down during her testimony at the hearing. She said she moved from Henrietta to Rochester to cut down her commute to Strong Memorial Hospital. But the move left her with a “rent burden” -- that’s when a person is spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Tazell said she’s spending more than 50 percent.

“I wanted to be closer to my job and I wanted to have my family live in the city,” said Tazell. “The house I’m renting is three bedrooms on a decent, nice street and is a very short drive to my job at the hospital.”

She said her rent is $1,100 a month plus utilities. She also pays a quarterly water bill.

“This has not been very easy to afford on my salary,” Tazell said. “I could have rented a cheaper place, but they were further from the hospital where I work and not in neighborhoods where I wanted to raise my kids.”

A recent study from the Fiscal Policy Institute said that nearly half of all New Yorkers are in a similar situation. That’s one reason lawmakers are reconsidering long-standing rent laws.

Advocates like the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance are asking for universal rent controls for unregulated apartments and mobile housing. They hope that will make housing more affordable upstate. Tazell is hoping her testimony makes renting easier for others.

“I know people in my family are touched by me coming down here,” said Tazell. “As long as I can touch one or two people, that’s fine. That means I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing for our community, for our generations coming after us and my kids.”

The state Senate is holding similar hearings in other parts of the state later this month.

Advocacy group Citizen Action of Rochester is busing people from its office in Rochester to a housing justice rally in Albany on Tuesday. The bus leaves at 6:30 a.m.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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