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Councilmembers advance program to aid some first-time homebuyers

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Rochester City Hall - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Rochester City Hall
Rochester City Council is set to vote Tuesday on a proposed program that would give a small pool of low-income Rochester residents opportunities to buy their first homes and financial assistance to do so.

If the legislation is approved, the city would direct $200,000 to the Housing Council at Pathstone, which would then facilitate the new Property Ownership Readiness Program, or PORP for short. Through the program, 8 to 10 families with household incomes below 80 percent of the median income in the Rocheter metro — that’s a threshold of $64,150 for a family of four — would receive financial education and coaching.

Of the $200,000, $180,000 would go directly to participants to aid them in buying a new one-to-four unit home, purchasing the home they’re currently renting, or repairing a property they already own. The remaining $20,000 would support administrative costs. The funding comes from a $1 million grant the city received from the state last year.

In particular, the program would focus on assisting Black and brown women, a demographic that has a historically low homeownership rate.

“Tenants often report better experiences with landlords who are local, familiar with Rochester ’s culture and legal system, and reasonable to work with and rent from,” the legislation reads. “This program aims to increase diversity in successful property ownership while also improving, and in some cases increasing, the quality affordable housing options for tenants.”

The initiative drew some criticism from Councilmember Jose Peo, who questioned the need to focus on a specific demographic.

“Why are we still prioritizing female-headed Black and brown households?” Peo asked, at a Council meeting last week. “I would think after what we’ve seen over the past 60 years with the welfare system that targeting female-headed households was a negative thing, where they would choose not to get married, which would hurt the overall Black and brown family dynamic.”

At a Council meeting Thursday evening, Peo expanded on the question by asking if “brown” includes Afghani, Nepalese, or Puerto Rican Rochesterians.

Councilmember Michael Patterson pushed back on Peo’s line of questioning.

“Just a point of clarification, councilmember, you do understand that saying you’re looking at a population does not mean you’re excluding anyone from participating, right?” Patterson said.

Dana Miller, the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development commissioner, clarified that there is no racial or gender-based qualification for the program itself.

“As long as they’re at or below 80 percent of the family median income they would be eligible,” Miller said. “We are not going to turn folks away just because they don’t happen to be female Black and brown heads of households. We’re not going to turn people away if they don’t meet that criteria.”

In a statement, Rochester City-Wide Tenant Union spokesperson Ritti Singh said the organization disagrees with the use of the state grant for the program.

“No effort was made in this program to get to a key root cause of displacement: an overwhelming lack of affordable housing,” read Singh’s statement.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.

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