ARP town hall participants highlight jobs, housing and income inequality

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Immediate needs such as food insecurity, housing, employment and financial recovery were top of mind for Rochester citizens during a town hall meeting. 

The June 17 phone conference allowed residents to learn and ask questions of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and her team about ways to potentially spend funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act.  

The city of Rochester is expected to receive more than $200 million in ARP funds. While the money has some limitations, including spending on pensions or outstanding debts, fewer strings than usual are attached. The flexible aid definition means local governments largely can use the money as they see fit. 

According to the Treasury Department, ARP’s broadly defined goal is to “provide a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.” 

Warren’s office, which has posted an online survey for residents to give their opinions on potential spending projects, also included questions completed by phone entry. 

The town hall survey found that 86 percent of respondents thought it was “very important” that ARP resources be focused on “immediate needs for workers, families and small businesses” such as food insecurity, financial counseling, job training, and homebuyer and repair grants. 

This interest was echoed by a number of questions during the town hall that hit on themes of housing ownership, rising rents, and a lack of job training or employment opportunities. Warren and her team acknowledged and reacted to those questions while also citing programs like the June 10 “Roc the Block” job fair as evidence of plans already underway to deal with these issues. 

On the other hand, 64 percent of respondents thought it was “very important” that ARP resources be focused on “longer-term investment to encourage job creation and economic development” such as grocery store incentives, improvements to tourist attractions or large infrastructure projects. One participant, a sports coach for middle-school aged children, bemoaned the lack of playable areas in the city, citing it as a factor for later negative behavior. 

Again, the mayor’s team emphasized some of the city’s projects already in progress, specifically plans for an indoor training facility at the former old Marina Auto Soccer Stadium called the McGuire project, which was originally set to open last fall before the COVID pandemic hit. 

Warren concluded the event by asking participants to stay involved and offer feedback through the city website. This phone town hall was the last of two live opportunities for residents to give their opinions. The city did not disclose when it would make a decision on potential projects to be funded.  

Projects mentioned by the mayor and her team: 

■ replacing lead-lined water service pipes;

■ bringing more grocery stores to the city;

■ creating a nature center in Maplewood Park;

■ founding a peacemaker fellowship to engage high-risk youth;

■ building new libraries;

■ creating food pantries;

■ innovating workforce development opportunities to offer alternatives to violence;

■ revitalizating parks and game fields;

■ increasing literacy programs and access to affordable child care;

■ creating new opportunities for education with the urban nature center and nature-based preschool in Maplewood Park;

■ reimagining animal clinics to provide low-cost or no-cost vaccinations, health care and training for pets;

■ increasing crisis support by connecting people to the right services; and

■ supporting vendors at the public market and international plaza. 

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is pursuing a graduate degree at City University of New York.

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