City seeks more tax breaks for housing development, candidates concerned

Local News

Candidates for local offices say CHOICE is a giveaway to wealthy

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Once desolate at night, downtown Rochester is becoming home to more and more people. Some of those moving in have taken advantage of a city tax-break program, a program City Hall now wants to offer to folks outside the center city.

Gary Kirkmire of Neighborhood and Business Development, says the Core Housing Owner Incentive Exemption program, encourages the creation of new residences by offering a hefty tax incentive to people who build and live in them.

“We’re trying to stimulate growth in the form of owner-occupancies and construction in our residential neighborhoods,” says Kirkmire.

CHOICE offers a descending discount on property taxes, from 90 percent in year one to ten percent in year nine, and no discounts thereafter. The city is seeking approval from Imagine Monroe to expand CHOICE. Kirkmire says the program so far has been a boost.

“Anytime you can increase owner-occupancy, and we’ve had 51 to date, it’s successful.”

However, some aren’t thrilled about CHOICE’s expansion. City Council candidate Mary Lupien has seen CHOICE in action and says it favors the wealthy.

“When we’re focused on middle and high-income neighborhoods, we’re giving support to development that doesn’t need more support,” says Lupien.

County Legislature Candidate Rachel Barnhart agrees, saying most who will apply for the tax break will build anyway.

“If you can afford a unit that costs a half-million dollars, you do not need us to give you a tax break. You can look on East Ave., you can look on Park Ave. There have been new builds in the last decade without this program,” says Barnhart.

City Council Candidate Mary Lupien & County Legislature Candidate Rachel Barnhart

Lupien says this can actually exacerbate the displacement due to gentrification we’re seeing in neighborhoods. But, she says if this was focused on other programs where construction is already subsidized.

“Then that could really help more low-income residents get into homeownership which is huge,” Lupien said.

But Kirkmire says CHOICE is not just for developers, its aimed at owner-occupants. And the 600 vacant lots in the city, if developed, will be a success for all parties.

“That can actually lead to success, and all of our residents can be able to get into this and be able to afford various types of structures,” he says.

Kirkmire adds City Council will have to approve the CHOICE expansion proposal, and the public will be able to give input.

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