Primary preview: Northside neighborhoods weigh in

Jun 5, 2019

Northwest Rochester is home to the JOSANA neighborhood, which is poor and mostly black and brown.

While the neighborhood has faced many challenges, it's also seen some positive changes recently.

"The neighborhood back then was known as ghost town. It's not called ghost town anymore," said Luis Aponte, chairman of Charles House Neighbors in Action. The group is a mix of area residents, business owners, and teens. About 12 years ago, the group merged with the organization that gave the neighborhood its name: the Jay Orchard Street Area Neighborhood Association.

Luis Aponte in the JOSANA neighborhood in the Northwest district. He says tragedy brought the neighborhood together to make important improvements.
Credit Renee Heininger / CITY Newspaper

"Are we 100%? No," said Aponte. "Are we a lot better than we were? Yes."

The city has worked with residents like Aponte to create a plan to reboot the neighborhood. The plan, called the JOSANA Neighborhood Planning Project, launched in 2011.

Aponte said neighbors have become more active, doing small things to improve their neighborhood. For example, they pick up litter and have asked for and received, new brighter streetlights. He said they got store owners to start selling fruits and vegetables. At their urging, the city and RG&E trimmed back overgrown trees and hedges.

Larger improvements include 200 new homes built in the area in recent years. They're a mix of Habitat for Humanity houses and private apartment complexes. The Rochester Police Department said violent and property crimes have been cut nearly in half since 2011.

But Aponte said the work isn't done yet.

"What the city does and what I feel is a mistake, is that they start a lot of stuff and don't finish a lot of stuff," Aponte said.

Aponte says the area wouldn't have improved without the city's help, but he says the areas where those new houses are need sidewalks, curbs and LED streetlights.

City spokesperson Jessica Alaimo detailed upcoming infrastructure projects that she said the city has scheduled:

  • Orange Street: Reconstruction from Saxton Street to Broad Street is in design now and currently budgeted for 2021.
  • Saxton Street: New curbs and new surface pavement from Jay Street to Broad Street is in design now and currently budgeted for 2021.
  • Grape Street: New curbs and new surface pavement, from Campbell Street to Broad Street. Currently budgeted for 2022.
  • Walnut Street: New curbs and new surface pavement, from Campbell Street to Broad Street. Currently budgeted for 2022.
  • Campbell Street: Milling and resurfacing from Romeyn Street/490 to Child Street. Scheduled for this year.
  • Romeyn Street: Milling and resurfacing from Orange Street to Campbell Street. Scheduled for this year.
  • Smith Street: Milling and resurfacing from Lake Avenue to Child Street. Scheduled for 2019.
  • Lyell Avenue: Milling and resurfacing from Lake Avenue to Fairgate Street. Scheduled for 2020.

Alaimo said in a statement that "the city of Rochester also has a hazardous sidewalks replacement program, and work rotates around the neighborhoods. Sidewalks in the JOSANA neighborhood will go out to bid later this year."

Molly Clifford, the current district Council member, is resigning this year. Controversial former judge Leticia Astacio, mortgage loan officer Jose Peo, and LaShana Boose are competing in the June 25 Democratic primary.

Aponte said he hopes that one of them will make sure the city keeps their promises.

Northeast District

In northeast Rochester, a battle for perception is ongoing.

"What we worry about is Zillow," said Ron Thomas, executive director of Baden Street Settlement. "Because I want the neighborhood to be perceived as a place where economic investment is good."

Baden Street, as many call it, has been a pillar in northeast Rochester since 1901. The nonprofit organization offers residents help with housing, food, day care, and more.

Ron Thomas from Baden Street Settlement House says the Northeast District is rebuilding a neighborhood where there is a mix of people of all races, all denominations.
Credit Renee Heininger / CITY Newspaper

Zillow and similar sites like Trulia take data-based snapshots of areas. In the case of northeast Rochester, they paint a bleak picture. Housing values are low, crime is high, and the schools in the area are poorly ranked.

There's plenty of reality to back up that data. A part of North Clinton Avenue is known as "heroin alley," with needles and baggies frequently found in some front yards. Open-air drug markets thrive on some corners. Old buildings sit empty, like the large Pulaski Library at Hudson Avenue and Norton Street.

Despite all this, Thomas is optimistic.

"I see a vibrant, supportive connective community, that in fact while it may be poor, the people here -- we still have spirit, we still have the belief that we can do better," Thomas said. "We still strive. We open up businesses, we do those things in the community that make the community better."

The sprouts of hope in northeast Rochester may not be visible to Zillow, but those familiar with area know there are few better city neighborhoods to get ethnic food. Rochester General Hospital and the Genesee Brewery have invested heavily in the area in recent years.

Thomas also pointed to Coca-Cola's and the Monroe County Social Services Department's long-term presence in the area as positives.

But he said it's still not enough. Thomas is actively seeking more economic development in the area.

He's quick, though, to separate the need for economic development from gentrification.

"I call it rebuilding a neighborhood, where there's a mix of people of all races, of all denominations, of all faiths, where we have created what the American dream would be," said Thomas. "A vibrant neighborhood where you have a truly integrated community. So my goal would be to have that happen again, for Joseph Avenue, to be a thriving economic engine that it was for northeast Rochester again."

Thomas is hoping that his next city representative can help make this happen.

Michael Patterson is the current city councilman for the Northeast District. He's facing a challenge from Norman Simmons Jr., a professor at Monroe Community College.

This is the first of a two-part look at the concerns that city neighborhood leaders have ahead of this month's City Council primaries. On Thursday, WXXI News will talk to leaders in the South and East districts.