Elston Hernández was a community leader who worked tirelessly to improve housing for Latinos.
Mr. Hernández died Sept. 15 of cancer at the age of 55. Roberto Burgos paid a tribute to his longtime friend during the Hispanic Heritage Month program at City Hall the following day.
Mr. Hernández was born in New York City and moved to the Rochester area in the 1970s. Burgos said that the two of them met when Mr. Hernández, who had worked at Ibero-American Action League, became manager of Los Flamboyanes apartments on North Clinton Avenue. He went on to create Isla Housing & Development Corp., a nonprofit agency that developed and manages St. Michael Apartments, and became its executive director, said Burgos, the city’s senior community housing planner.
"He was really determined and definitely proud of his efforts" to bring both phases of St. Michael Apartments to fruition, said Father Laurence Tracy, a longtime activist for the Hispanic community. "But he was always kind of in the background, quietly doing his thing."
Burgos said that Mr. Hernández was so selfless that he preferred to give someone else the credit even for help he provided. And Mr. Hernández helped many people in the community — including Burgos — get their start in careers in real estate or property management.
"He was very humble," Burgos added. "He was a person that didn’t like to be in the spotlight."
And yet, he served on many local and state boards including the Greater Rochester Housing Partnership, the Rochester Housing Authority and the Puerto Rican Youth and Development Resource Center, now an Ibero subsidiary.
Through Isla, Mr. Hernández helped residents obtain funds to improve the efficiency of their homes through insulation and windows. Under his leadership, Burgos added, the agency also was able to buy homes that were in foreclosure that were then renovated and made available to first-time homebuyers.
"He did that for a lot of folks in low-income housing," Burgos noted.
Additionally, Mr. Hernández became certified in lead-paint detection and started a company that continues to provide that service, Burgos said.
"What he leaves is a legacy of community service in the area of providing decent and affordable housing for the disadvantaged," Burgos added. "My personal desire is for people in the community to support that legacy of (providing) affordable housing in his honor. … The need for decent and affordable housing is even greater today. There are more people in poverty in need of finding a decent place. Elston spent his whole career making those opportunities available."
Mr. Hernández was predeceased by his mother, Virginia Hernández. He is survived by his father, Hipolito Hernández; his wife, Sonia Nuñez; daughters and sons-in-law, Erica and José Cornier, Yamalis and Greg Stanwix, and Jasmin and José Ortiz; sons and a daughter-in-law, Daniel Hernández and James and Jennifer Nuñez; sister and brother-in-law, Marta and James Sabado; brother, Melvin Hernández; and several grandchildren. Donations in his memory may be sent to the American Cancer Society.