Grassroots efforts help ensure affordable housing in Rochester

We’ve all heard the issues — Rochester’s child poverty rate is among the highest in the nation; we have an epidemic of homelessness; we need more, better-paying jobs. As affordable as our city is, it is decidedly unaffordable for many of its residents. In other words, affordability is relative.

While on the whole housing prices are incredibly low within the city, they remain out of reach to most city residents, as evidenced by the 60-plus percent of renters we have in Rochester (and that fails to include the alarming number of homeless people in our city). At the same time, growing pockets of our city are seeing increased investment. If you’ve been paying attention to the local news, for instance, you’re likely aware that we’ve been experiencing what some would characterize as a housing “boom” in our downtown center. These new developments and investments have been long overdue and have helped bring about an influx of residents to our city’s core. Other neighborhoods have experienced a similar trend. Along with it, though, we’ve seen increasing rents, increasing housing prices, and increasing concern from long-time residents and housing-justice advocates. What then are we doing as a city in order to ensure that we are providing truly affordable housing options throughout Rochester to renters and homeowners alike? What are we doing to ensure that our residents have a voice in the process that is truly heard?

One potential tool for helping to ensure that reinvesting in a neighborhood is done in a way that is equitable is the Community Land Trust (CLT) model, which has the ability to secure permanent affordability and community control of select properties. It’s what more than 250 communities throughout the country are doing, and what City Roots Community Land Trust (CityRootsCLT.org) is working to do here in Rochester. Many cities have gone further — partnering a municipal land bank with a community-controlled, not-for-profit CLT. CLTs operate by acquiring property for the benefit of the public and then stewarding its intended use. That intended use is determined by the community’s residents and can take many forms, such as permanently affordable housing, community gardens and storefronts for worker-owned businesses. In this way, residents are able to build community wealth and to ensure that at least some element of affordability is maintained in their neighborhoods.

As we welcome reinvestment and work to dispel concentrated poverty, we must ensure, rather than simply hope, that the investment actually benefits those who need it the most. CLTs, tenant unions and other grassroots movements empower our residents to enact their own solutions and should be encouraged and prioritized by city officials as we move forward toward the revitalization of our city. If we do not, we risk revitalization for the few at the expense of the many.

Joe Di Fiore is president of the board of directors for City Roots Community Land Trust.

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