Famed blues musician Eddie James "Son" House Jr. lived a life of hardships and second chances.
That’s one reason why House is memorialized on a new building that aims to give second chances to people who have fallen on hard times.
Providence Housing Development Corp. and Catholic Family Center broke ground in mid-December on Son House Apartments, a $4.5 million project at 539 Joseph Ave. in Rochester. Applications are now being accepted for Son House, which features 21 affordable one-bedroom apartments of permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. The first floor also includes space for Catholic Family Center offices and programs.
Other than having a mural of his face painted on an electrical box in the city of Rochester, House has thus far not been memorialized locally, said his biographer Daniel Beaumont, who wrote Preachin’ the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House, which was published in 2011 by Oxford University Press. Beaumont said the recognition in the naming Son House Apartments after the musician was fitting.
"I think it’s a great thing," said Beaumont, an associate professor of Arabic and history at the University of Rochester, who also teaches a course on the history of blues music. "He had a hard life in a lot of ways and he would have been sympathetic (to those who have become homeless)."
Catholic Family Center, which operates three homeless shelters, first discussed creating permanent housing for the homeless in about 2003, said Lisa Lewis, CFC’s vice president of residential services. After receiving a grant, it began leasing apartments to fill this permanent-housing void. In 2006 it acquired a vacant lot next to its Joseph Avenue shelter, Francis Center, which sparked discussions with Providence Housing about developing an apartment building of permanent affordable housing.
Lewis said there has been a long-standing connection with local blues musicians and CFC; for several years blues musicians donated their time and talents for concerts to raise funds for CFC’s homeless and housing services programs. The decision to name the building Son House grew out of these events, she said.
Providence Housing owns the building and manages the apartments, and CFC will provide case management services to tenants, who will be CFC clients, or those services will be provided by a network of providers that team up with CFC. Case management could include offering on-site employment opportunities, offering employment readiness, helping with budgeting and resolution of financial issues, and helping clients obtain certifications so that they can work in trades, helping clients access educational resources, and hosting workshops on the rights and responsibilities of tenants, Lewis said.
The rents will be set on a sliding scale depending on the clients’ incomes.
Lewis said there is a shortage of adequate, well-maintained and affordable housing in Rochester. She said CFC officials also have seen a recent increase in professionals from the suburbs who are homeless due to job losses or reductions in income.
"We hope to see more housing like this spring up in our community," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Applications for Son House Apartments will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis with referral through Catholic Family Center. Applications are available at CFC, 87 N. Clinton Ave., Rochester, 585-232-1840, and at Providence Housing Development Corp., 1150 Buffalo Road, Gates, 585-328-3228, ext. 1393.