This is a corrected version of this story.
The latest in an intense burst of activity over the last year to ease Rochester’s growing poverty problem is the release of an anxiously awaited report (see below) from IBM. The City of Rochester was one of 16 winners nationwide of an IBM Sister Cities grant which sends IBM executives to cities to help them address critical issues ranging from jobs to energy to housing. The executives were in Rochester this past October, and their report came out today.
Rochester has the second-highest rate of poverty and the highest rate of childhood poverty of similar sized cities in the nation. And poverty, childhood poverty, and extreme poverty continue to rise, the report says.
The dense, jargon-heavy report makes 13 recommendations and attaches short, medium, and long-term actions to each. Specific costs are not included and the report seems to place the overwhelming responsibility for the work it says needs be done on the City of Rochester alone, even though many of the recommendations involve social services, which is the responsibility of the county. The report could be interpreted as an invitation for the county, the private sector, and others to wash their hands of the problem.
The city must do a better job, the IBM report says, of coordinating and integrating services to people in need, so that they don’t have to seek out services at multiple places, which can lead to gaps in service or overlapping services. And the effectiveness of services should be based on real results and not, for example, how many people a particular program serves, the report says.
Eligibility criteria should be standardized, the report says, to make it easier for people to apply for and receive services. Right now, people must apply to different agencies with different criteria.
The report also talks about creating an urban village by addressing housing, commercial and business investment, transportation, and education in a designated area. The neighborhood would attract people from different social, economic, and racial groups, which would lift up the area. The effort would require intensive planning and design, though, the reports says, and there’s a risk that the area could be stigmatized as a sort of “poor town.”
To achieve an urban village, the city might consider establishing recreational centers in the area, the report says, and make sure that the area acts as a hub of public transport.
Too many city residents pay too much of their income in rent, and the city should review rent rates, the reports says, and implement “a combination of realistic rent options and supported home-ownership schemes.” This recommendation also includes investigating the viability of a program for city government to guarantee mortgages.
Other recommendations deal with engaging neighborhood leadership in poverty-reduction efforts; reaching out to people in poverty instead of waiting for them to engage the system; and developing a complete profile of each person served by programs to better monitor their needs and track results.