Affordability in the suburbs

Print More
The senior living community on Baird Road will feature 76 affordable apartments for seniors. (Photo by Paul Ericson)

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.

Source: The Mechanics of Monroe County’s Rental Housing Market

“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.

Source: Perinton’s Comprehensive Plan

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]

6 thoughts on “Affordability in the suburbs

  1. It is great that affordable suburban housing for seniors is being
    considered. However, such housing will mostly be of interest to those
    who can drive. Over the past 20 years, Rochester suburban population has
    increased while transportation options have decreased. The number and
    frequency of regular bus routes has declined, and the option for senior
    “call-a-bus” para-transit service has decreased or become non-existent in
    some areas. For example, large areas of the town of Perinton, including
    apartments and condos housing older individuals along route 31, have
    this service only on a stand-by basis, meaning that a trip could be
    canceled at the last minute, leaving someone who needs to get to a
    medical visit with a forced cancellation and a long wait for a new
    appointment. Without reliable and affordable transportation, low cost
    housing is much less useful.

  2. It’s not merely teaching kids the way they learn, it’s teaching the educators how to reach those kids in the first place. Discipline issues are often met with frustration, suspension and inappropriate supervision. There are entire school systems embracing a different approach to teaching kids how to handle their emotions in the face of challenges, bullying, home struggles, etc. Mindfulness programs for all children have proven to reduce acting out, lower rates of suspension, and increase children’s ability to cope. RCSD could become an urban leader in innovative approaches to really reaching the kids who are at the mercy of antiquated educational approaches and punitive disciplinary practices. How long does it take to see that the old regime isn’t working, and get on board with what we know empirically works?

    • Actually “teaching the way kids learn” is just the tip of the education iceberg. If you don’t show kids professions and or careers, how will they come to realize their innate skill, their gift, their interest? Just telling them to stick it out and everything will be fine post graduation day is the way it’s done today. If they are one of the “lucky” ones and did stick it out till graduation day, they have no clue what opportunities that exist for them. Opportunities are endless. But again, if you don’t show them, how will they realize those opportunities. I have proposed a venue that will show them those professions and career opportunities. In addition to that venue a careers and profession museum. A place where kids can see, touch and smell the many opportunities that are there for them….if they are prepared for them. That is where the RCSD comes in. They, in cooperation with teachers, should be in a position to help them discover and prepare them for the post K-12 journey. Whether that is college, a certificate program, the military or a combination of employment and additional employer sponsored education. K-12 is not the whole journey, it is but the preparation of the entire educational journey and a living wage career or profession. That is what addresses generational poverty, that is what gives our youth choice, that provides opportunity. While that is not that difficult to grasp, it appears to be by the educational leadership. The number one question posed by drop-out or potential drop-out is, “what do I need this s— for anyway?” It seems to me that answering that question might be considered. At the moment the RCSD/RCSB are far removed from that mission. Decades of educational failure. Not the failure of the kids, not even the failure of the teachers. It is, in fact, the failure of the educational leadership. Decades of it….DECADES! Do better. Last but not least, time for the teachers Union to, not just do things right…but do the right thing. (There is an appreciable difference) Finally show Adam Urbanski the door. He has done very well with his bank account and investments. Move on with leadership that will finally do more than just benefit the teachers and take in consideration the mission…..teaching our kids toward educational success resulting in living wage careers/professions. Semper Fi.

    • Joy, why not ask Adam Urbanski. When he speaks he appears to be familiar with all the problems and issues. That said, answers or solutions are rarely forthcoming. That’s the definition of a critic. Solution based meetings provide answers. Meetings all by themselves… is just stirring the pot. By the way, when you teach the way kids learn….the educators are, in fact, reaching the kids. ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts. It’s up to the education system to help them discover those gifts and or innate skills. We need to show them why they need the education. It is the first question from a drop out, “what do I need this s— for anyway?” It seems to me that answering that question provides the educator with the mission. Today they show them nothing and expect them to stick it out and graduate. Why not show them careers and professions so that they can connect the boring academics with those opportunities. This aint rocket science. I believe it is known but they simply refuse to provide a relevant education. That is criminal.

  3. As a resident of Perinton, I am proud of how this article has placed the town in the spotlight as a leader in providing housing affordability in Monroe County. What it doesn’t say is that there are deep roots associated with Perinton’s leadership going back fifty years with the building of the Pines of Perinton affordable housing development in the 70’s. It is gratifying to see that the current Town government and others mentioned in the article are continuing to build upon the Pines’ legacy especially given today’s regional, statewide, and national housing crisis.

    This crisis was locally noted on March 29, 2023 when leaders and elected officials from New York’s Finger Lakes Region addressed the continuing Housing Crisis in our region following a roundtable discussion with Governor Hochul. (see:
    Participants included City Mayor Malik Evans, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Executive Bob Duffy, and Henrietta Town Supervisor Stephen Schultz among others. Schultz stated “Homes that are affordable, either as starter homes or for downsizing in retirement, are a big need in Henrietta and across the State. Unfortunately, there has been a push from the industry to build larger, more expensive homes, so I am happy to work with the Governor’s Office on ways to incentivize developers to build more affordable homes that also align with our comprehensive land use plans for the Town.”

    Perhaps other local governments will examine their own response to this crisis and in the spirit of the common good, ensure that affordable housing is not just a goal within a comprehensive plan but a moral imperative.

    In closing and as Perinton Supervisor Hanna alluded to, accessible and affordable housing not only uplifts individuals and families, but also strengthens the fabric of communities, fostering stability, dignity, and the opportunity for all to thrive.

    Lastly, a special acknowledgement to the Rochester Beacon for publishing this article.

    Sincerely …. Bill Wynne

    • While affordable housing is important, lets look at why, for a large segment of our population, why we need it. Poverty has its roots in education. If one doesn’t get an education one can’t find a job. They are connected. With education comes opportunity!! I know that’s foreign to the RCSD because they can’t seem to graduate but 50% of their student population. The 50% that doesn’t graduate gets their education on the street. The 50% that do graduate are awarded a diploma that will not allow them to survive the first semester in higher education. Let me also add that ALL kids have innate skills and or gifts. It’s up to the RCSD to help them discover those innate skills/gift. To date they have been unable to provide a successful K-12 journey for way too many of our urban youth. That is not a new phenomena for that has been the case for decades. Decades! So while affordable housing is important, we could take a huge bite out of that need by teaching kids the way they learn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *