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Speakers urge Monroe County lawmakers to boost spending on housing programs

Pastor Wanda Wilson addresses members of the Monroe County Legislature
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Pastor Wanda Wilson was one of almost two dozen speakers at a budget hearing who encouraged members of the Monroe County Legislature to establish a housing fund.

Housing advocates spoke out during a hearing Thursday on Monroe County Executive Adam Bello’s 2024 budget proposal. Their message to him and to legislators: Invest more county money in housing assistance.

Several of the speakers directly called for legislators to establish a $10 million housing fund. Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart has said she plans to offer an amendment to Bello’s budget that would create that fund. Legislators will vote on the budget Tuesday.

“Expanding warming centers and investing in outreach centers and steering federal pandemic relief funding to different community agencies is not working well,” Pastor Wanda Wilson said during her remarks to legislators. “What can work is for Monroe County to be intentional about creating and approving a moral budget by investing in people experiencing poverty and homelessness.”

Peter Peters of REACH Advocacy, which operates a network of shelters, told legislators that when its social workers help guests find permanent housing, one of the biggest barriers they run into is a lack of truly affordable housing.

The fund, he told legislators, could help address the problem.

“This money can be used to create housing units that remain affordable,” Peters said. “The money is there. It just needs the political will to do this. By acting in this way, you will bring hope to those who are daily struggling to find affordable housing.”

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Bello has said that his 2024 budget includes funding to open a county-run emergency shelter in the Corn Hill neighborhood. As planned, it would have embedded services and capacity for up to 70 families.

His budget proposal would hold the county tax levy flat and drop the average property tax rate to $6.65 per $1,000 assessed value. That would be the lowest rate since the late 1940s.

Rita Lewis, a longtime advocate for the homeless, said the fund could help address a need for rental assistance to help keep people from being evicted and finding themselves in need of shelter.

“Let's do all we can to make sure that the people who are hurting the most in our community are being taken care of,” Lewis said. “That's all we ask for.”

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.