The first phase of the city of Rochester’s Buy the Block initiative has crossed the halfway mark. The homes under the homeownership support program are located between Upper Falls Boulevard and Clifford, Clinton, and Hudson avenues.
So far, 13 families have moved into homes with another three prepared to move in early this year. Next year, five more families will move into the final homes. which will begin construction in spring 2024.
“The Buy the Block program makes good on our commitment to provide opportunities for economic empowerment for every resident, strengthen our most challenged neighborhoods and create a city of hope where each citizen has equal access to a prosperous future,” said Mayor Evans at the completion of the first six homes last April.
“Buy the Block is a small step towards rectifying the injustices of historic redlining that took place in our city,” he said. “As we build new houses, we raise the value of the homes around them and positively affect the neighborhood while creating opportunities for homeownership—the net effect will be transformational.”
Most recently, the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development switched development locations from several vacant spots at Cuba Place to a large empty lot at 39 Thomas St. instead. According to city records, the triangle-shaped lot has been under city ownership since 2000.
At a recent committee meeting,Commissioner Dana Miller said the land is big enough for three homes.
“We have already built several houses on Thomas Street and by connecting a series of these houses and putting them in a similar location, it tends to revitalize a whole street as opposed to a piecemeal approach,” Miller added.
Sullivan Street is another area with a number of Buy the Block homes.
The Buy the Block effort started in 2021 as one of former Mayor Lovely Warren’s final pieces of submitted legislation. The project would build 100 homes for low-income families in an act of “greenlining,” a term used for investing in historically disinvested neighborhoods by converting vacant lots to single-family houses.
With a city subsidy, costs for Phase 1 Buy the Block homes are between $100,000 and $150,000, a third of building costs.
Homebuyers at or below 80 percent of area median income, who fall into a “low-income” band, are eligible to apply to Buy the Block. Purchase of a home through the program comes with an agreement to live in the home as the principal residence for at least 15 years.
Buyers must also be able to borrow from an approved mortgage lender and, according to the Phase 1 application, have a credit score close to 640, although there is “flexibility” in the matter.
“Eligibility really determines who in our community has access to these new homes,” said Councilmember Kim Smith, who indicated interest in using an alternative to credit scores in that same meeting.
Credit scores have been linked with perpetuating racial and economic inequality. In a 2022 study by the Urban Institute, researchers found that young adults in majority-Black communities between ages 25 and 29 had a median credit score of 582. This compares to 644 and 687 for those in majority-Hispanic and majority-white communities, respectively.
Phase 1 of Buy the Block had the Greater Rochester Housing Partnership as a developer, Atlas Contractors LLC as the builder, and Ibero American Development Corp. for further support. The deadline for Phase 2 proposals was October, but no partners for that project have been announced yet.
The second phase will focus on the southwestern part of the city. Twenty-one homes are planned to go up near West High Field and Wilson Foundational Academy and a further nine will be constructed in the Bullshead neighborhood.
The first phase used $13.3 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for funding. The city will work with development partners to identify and apply for additional funding sources for future phases.
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. 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].