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Rochester plans to build 100 new houses on vacant lots to to address past racist housing policies

City lot
Max Schulte
54 Thomas St, a city lot that will be the sight of brand new homes apart of Buy the Block program

The city of Rochester is moving forward on an effort to improve neighborhoods with an initiative aimed at building 100 new homes on vacant lots.

Buy the Block — Greenlining for a Better Rochester aims to reverse the legacy of redlining, a practice in which residents of color were shut out of the most desirable neighborhoods.

“It's about righting the wrongs of decades of housing discrimination by turning formerly redline areas into greenline opportunities,” Mayor Malik Evans said Monday. “It's about giving Black and brown families a means to accumulate wealth through homeownership.”

The program’s first phase focuses on building 24 homes in the city’s northeast quadrant. Evans said Greater Rochester Housing Partnership is the chosen developer, pending City Council approval.

The project is supported by over $13 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Dana Miller said the city already has a robust home improvement program and some of the funding will be used to expand those programs.

“We’re spending tremendous amounts of money on houses to remediate lead problems, to replace roofs, to replace furnaces, to do all kinds of things that allow these houses to continue to be great places to live,” Miller said. “So we will expand that program by taking a large amount of the ARPA funding, and transferring that into a program that handles rehab grants for these existing houses.”

But city resident Edwina Killings said the mayor should take a different approach to improving neighborhoods.

Killings lives across from a vacant lot on Thomas Street that will soon be developed. She said the area has been riddled with violence and homelessness.

“You got to fix the problem first -- the drugs, the violence, the homeless, first -- and then build,” Killings said.

Edwina Killings
Max Schulte
Edwina Killings has lived across the street from a vacant lot on Thomas Street

She said previous administrations have failed to address the issue.

“I heard it all before,” Killings said.

Home prices are expected to be between $89,000 and $139,000. Eligible buyers will be required to live in the home for 10 years. Applications opened this summer.

April Franklin is the local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition and a reporter covering housing and neighborhood issues.