Sometime next fall, a new, affordable senior living community on Baird Road in Perinton will be ready for occupancy. Another mixed-income development also could be in the cards, increasing the town’s affordable housing stock.
Home Leasing, which is currently engaging the community on its idea, envisions a mixed-use development fronting Fairport Road and Jefferson Avenue–a parcel that has been vacant for several years.
While the proposal hasn’t come to town officials yet, it is in line with Perinton’s vision to build residences for a mix of income levels as outlined by its comprehensive plan.
Updated in 2021, the current plan and the one before it indicated that the town needed more multifamily homes, says Ciaran Hanna, Perinton town supervisor.
“(The plan) called for (a) mix of homes for income levels,” he says. “We really try to adhere to our comp plan.”
It is widely recognized that rent burdens are a big challenge in the city of Rochester. Roughly 40 percent of Rochester renter households earn no more than $20,000 annually, meaning they can afford to pay no more than $500 per month in rent, a recent Monroe County rental market report states.
The report also found that suburban renters face similar issues. In fact, they are more cost-burdened than their city counterparts since rents tend to be higher in the suburbs.
“What that study showed was that suburban renters who make between $20,000 to $50,000 a year are more cost-burdened than renters in the city making $20,000 to $50,000 a year, and the number of renters is comparable,” says Eric Van Dusen, manager of community impact at ESL Federal Credit Union. His experience includes work with NeighborWorks Rochester, the Housing Council, and more recently as senior economic development specialist with the city.
Even though more people see the need for affordable housing and view fewer such options as a problem, it often isn’t easy to get communities on board. Fears over an increase in neighborhood density, traffic flow, crime and strains on infrastructure are some reasons. Most of all, residents worry about a decrease in property values.
“I wouldn’t categorize it as a challenge,” Hanna says. “There are some people that are 100 percent in favor of it.”
Others, he adds, don’t have strong feelings. Residents’ main concern is that newcomers to Perinton become part of the community and treat it as theirs. So far, Hanna says, no issues have come up.
The suburban market
According to Monroe County’s rental market study, the income distribution among renters in the suburbs is more even than in the city. The suburbs have half as many households earning less than $20,000 and twice as many earning $75,000 or more, the report states. Seventy-nine percent of the lower-income households (annual income less than $20,000) in the suburbs are rent-burdened. Of the households earning $20,000 to $34,999, 81 percent find it difficult to pay their way.
“Though the suburbs don’t have as many households making less than $20,000 a year, they’re cost-burdened at a similar percentage as the city,” Van Dusen notes. “So, all across those income ranges ($20,000 to $50,000), for tenants currently living in the city (and the suburbs), they’re just as cost-burdened,” Van Dusen says.
Rental units in the suburbs typically are garden apartment complexes with scattered buildings containing, in most cases, eight to 12 units each, the report states. Most of these properties were built in the 1980s and 1990s, in response to the flight to the suburbs. As the population ages in the areas surrounding the city, older residents reckon with fixed incomes.
Of Perinton’s 17,791 housing units, nearly 97 percent are occupied, signaling high housing demand, the town’s 2021 comprehensive plan states. The occupancy rate suggests that the town is capable of absorbing more housing units to increase its supply and promote affordability.
Compared to other nearby towns, the ratio of median housing value to median household income in Perinton (2.41) is closest to 1.00, meaning that homes are affordable relative to Perinton residents’ household incomes, according to the plan. But the median renter countywide is less able to afford Perinton’s median rental rate than renters who currently live there.
The plan highlights a trend away from larger, single-family homes. As residents seek to age in place, they are more likely to gravitate toward smaller, single-level ranch-style homes or lower-maintenance townhomes, officials believe. These owner and rental options that appeal to older residents are also inviting for professionals, new families, and first-time homebuyers, the plan surmises.
A plan for New York
Growing the number of affordable units is not just a local issue. It is a statewide challenge that has drawn Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attention. She proposes the New York Housing Compact as an answer. It has an ambitious goal: build 800,000 homes in the next decade.
“The New York Housing Compact is a comprehensive plan to spur the changes needed to create more housing, meet rising demand, and make our state a more equitable, stable, and affordable place to live,” Hochul says.
Her plan, unveiled in the state’s budget, includes $250 million for infrastructure updates and improvements for local housing growth and $20 million for planning and technical assistance for rezoning efforts and other strategies to drive growth.
The plan called on local governments to pitch in. Outside New York City, localities would be expected to achieve 1 percent growth in their housing stock over three years; for 80 percent of localities, that would mean the addition of fewer than 50 homes over the period. The state would offer support toward meeting this goal.
The proposed mandate drew criticism from the state Legislature and the real estate industry, and didn’t gain enough backers before the budget was approved. Hochul has vowed to keep pushing for approval.
Baird Road project
Perinton’s development on Baird Road did get some state help–$10.7 million–last year. The project, which is under construction, will feature 76 affordable apartments for seniors, including 38 with supportive services from Rochester General Hospital funded through an Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative award, state officials say.
The building will feature rooftop solar panels, air source heat-pump water heaters and low-carbon materials. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded the development $1 million from the Buildings of Excellence program.
The project came into being, Hanna says, through the efforts of Perinton Churches Housing. A coalition of 14 Perinton-area churches and Fairport Baptist Homes, the nonprofit initiates and develops affordable housing for seniors, targeting low- to moderate-income residents.
A couple of its major projects are Fairport Apartments and Jefferson Road Apartments. PCH obtained the rights to build on the 10-acre lot at 2770 Baird Road. The idea fit in with the comprehensive plan’s aims, and the town had previous experience working with PCH, Hanna says.
Called Midvale Commons, the $16.8 million project is being developed and managed by Pathstone Management Corp., with Christa Construction and SWBR Architects as the builder and designer, respectively. Rents for these units will vary according to tenants’ incomes.
Home Leasing’s proposal
Home Leasing’s proposed affordable housing development in Perinton would feature a single mixed-use building with commercial space for lease and four townhome buildings. It will be available for mixed-income households with up to 80 percent of the area median income, a flyer states.
The earliest construction would start is 2025, with completion anticipated in 2026. Financing would be made possible by the state Department of Homes and Community, the document states.
The Rochester Beacon reached out to Home Leasing, but officials declined to offer details on the project, citing the community engagement process.
Once the location of a car dealership, the site has been largely vacant for some years. The town’s plans for the site have always included mixed-use development with commercial and residential space, Hanna says.
“(Home Leasing officials) haven’t come back to the town yet,” he says. “I know they have had some community engagement and the site is approved for this type of development, but no application has been filed with the township as of yet.”
An unmet need
Perinton’s recognition of the need for affordable, multifamily homes is mirrored across the country. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of cost-burdened renters—those spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing—increased by 1.2 million to a record 21.6 million households, a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University states.
During the same period, the share of cost-burdened renters grew by 2.6 percentage points to 49 percent of renter households, approaching the 51 percent peak recorded in 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession, the study states.
When it comes to the limited suburban stock, some researchers blame local governments that limit housing construction. Others point to restrictive zoning laws and myths like affordable housing equals low-quality housing.
Van Dusen notes that Rochester is rich in top-notch affordable housing developers.
“Affordable housing strengthens all communities,” Van Dusen says. “So, having a rich income mix, in your town, village, and community, I think, is important to having a healthy community.”
Education, experts believe, is key to helping communities understand the importance of diversity in housing, along with policy changes that drive new housing construction for a mix of income levels.
“It doesn’t matter what we build, it’ll be filled immediately,” says Hanna, who believes that housing in general is a challenge. “There’s just a housing shortage all across the board. I don’t think it’s necessarily only with affordable housing; it just increases that challenge.”
Van Dusen reminds that there aren’t sufficient units available for households with incomes under $20,000.
“The suburbs are deficient, over 9,300 units, and that number comes out of the rental market study,” he says. “I think (people need to) understand that this is both a regional issue, and it’s also a local issue in their own communities affecting their neighbors. I think that that’s important to help set some of the context.”
Hanna believes it’s a town’s responsibility to develop wisely.
“So that’s really what the challenge is,” he says. “Now there’s a high demand for housing all over. Our comp plan calls for a diversity of housing. And that’s what we really are. The comp plan really is the whole community coming together and putting in their opinion. It’s really a community plan, and what we try to follow.”
Perinton has historically aimed for diversity in housing, to have a range of options for residents, regardless of income or family status and other factors, he adds. As other towns consider expanding housing options for their residents, he suggests going through the process carefully.
“We have an aging population … and oftentimes the aging population is on a fixed income,” he says. “So we have to take all of that into account. It’s a process that I think that you should go through because you should offer that option for every one of your residents.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].