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Tenant advocates say proposed fixes to Rochester's housing problems don't address the root issues

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans announces Housing Quality Task Force recommendations at City Hall on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
April Franklin
Rochester Mayor Malik Evans announces Housing Quality Task Force recommendations at City Hall on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Rochester’s Housing Quality Taskforce released its report on Tuesday, giving Mayor Malik Evans a list of recommendations for solutions to the city’s housing issues.

The mayor appointed the 21-member task force in February with the duty of coming up with recommendations within 90 days.

Just one day shy of the deadline, the task force delivered a report that offers 16 recommendations covering five topics: code enforcement, facilitating ownership through the city’s land bank, foreclosures, repair and improvement programs, increasing the supply of quality housing and communication and education.

Also included in the report is a recommendation to address code violations by establishing a housing attorney in the city law department.

Evans said a housing attorney working alongside code enforcement would ensure that property owners with multiple violations are held accountable.

“We need to send a message in our community that we are not going to tolerate dilapidated, rickety, broken-down structures," Evans said. “I don't expect my constituents to live in it. But the question is, what are we going to do about it? And the answer is that a housing attorney will help us.”

Evans said his goal is to create more homeownership, but he recognizes that most Rochester residents are renters.

“If they are renters, we have to make sure that they are living in properties that are up to code, safe and equitable. If they're not that way, the question is what the city can do about it. And we will use every tool in our toolbox to be able to do that,” Evans said.

He added that the city is working on a way to assist property owners to get back into compliance.

Housing advocates, stakeholders and city officials on the taskforce have met weekly since February.

Two original task force members, Liz McGriff with the City-Wide Tenants Union and Stacey Jernigan of the Rochester Homeless Union, stepped down earlier this month before the recommendations were finalized.

McGriff said she feels the task force did not meet the needs of tenants, homeless residents, and low-income homeowners, and she’s disappointed in the recommendations.

“Most of the recommendations that community groups brought up weren’t even brought to a vote. As a result, the recommendations presented today do not address the root causes of our slumlord system,” McGriff said in a released statement.

In response to the departures Evans said that the door is still open for the tenants and homeless advocates to work on the taskforce.

Aqua Porter, executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and taskforce chair, said she is proud of their work.

“We had lively debates. And we did not always agree,” Porter said. “But we made a commitment to staying focused on our charter and coming to a compromise when needed and necessary.”

Evans plans to meet with the taskforce in August to discuss how to put the recommendations into action.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.