Activists call for stop to tax breaks for developers, others say breaks are ‘mission-critical’ for Rochester

Community

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Across New York State, activists took to the streets to launch their new #HouseNY campaign Tuesday. Organizers are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to enact long-term solutions for the state’s housing crisis.

In Rochester, dozens came out for the cause and are asking for the following under the new campaign:

  • Pass the ‘Good Cause’ eviction bill which would give tenants the right to lease renewals and prevent landlords from evicting renters without good reason.
  • Pass the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act, a bill that will convert empty buildings into housing for low-income individuals.
  • Eliminate 421-a, a property tax exemption if your property value changed due to construction on a multi-family residential building.
  • Housing Access Voucher Program, which will provide full fund rental assistance for low-income and homeless New Yorkers.
  • Tenant Opportunity to Purchase, giving tenants the right of first refusal to take over buildings at the point of sale.

Tuesday’s rally comes after Rochester City Council’s vote last week to renew 485-A, a tax break for developers that some are not happy about. This break allows developers to pay taxes on properties based on their initial value, instead of its assessed value once the project is completed.

Local developers said this is a win, but community activists said the renewal is making an existing problem worse. Barbara Rivera with Citizen Action said she’s disappointed in city council’s actions.

“This just means more people who are already being displaced in this community are going to be more displaced, like our homeless,” Rivera said.

Activists say due to property taxes being paid before construction is completed, most of the time, the tax breaks on those properties are much higher. Rivera feels that means less money is being reinvested in the community.

Rivera said the area could potentially be looking at $10 million in tax breaks for developers. She feels those dollars go to gentrification rather than city programs in need.

However, for developers like Matt Drouin, he says 485-a is ‘mission-critical.’

“We wouldn’t do the project if it wasn’t for those incentives because there really is no other incentive besides that,” Drouin said. “These projects do not displace residents, they are brand new construction projects and if we don’t provide this, then right on the other side in the Park Avenue area, those rents will go up and gentrify those areas, and push those people out.”

Justin Roj with city hall says Mayor Lovely Warren has been committed to providing affordable housing throughout her time in office, and this tax break extension should not overshadow the over 4,000 thousand units generated for low-income families.

“Let’s focus on the great success we’ve had together,” Roj said. “That’s what we should focus on. The fact that we’ve built all this.”

The City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester brought 485-a to city council’s attention in the first place, asking for it to be re-evaluated. Tenant organizer, Lisle Coleman said she was disappointed in the outcome of the vote, and that only one city council member, Mary Lupien, voted against its renewal.

“It’s easy for the city to opt into things they’ve always done and just say this is a tool in our toolbox to help revitalize Rochester but really what it is just keeping the status quo of prioritizing big developers over city residents,” Coleman said.

With 485-A being renewed, local activists said it’s critical other housing programs throughout the state be passed including the HONDA act and the good cause eviction bill.

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