Project takes aim at blight PDF Print E-mail

Hopes re-emerge in plans for new housing near PAETEC Park

In a section of Rochester, just beyond PAETEC Park, the city has foreclosed on and taken one in every five properties.

Many have been leveled, because the vacant structures were too far gone.
At last count, City Hall held the deeds to 175 parcels here. But that count has begun to fall.

City Council members approved selling off 10 lots to Flower City Habitat for Humanity in July. Total price: $4,675. They could be asked to sell another 10 to Rochester Housing Authority in October or November. The two agencies, proposing a mix of rental and owner-occupied housing, have talked for months about fixing these streets.
"We're on the verge," said Marion Walker, president of the Jay/Orchard Streets Neighborhood Association.

Habitat and the Housing Authority plan to build in the southeast corner of this neighborhood, bordered by Broad and Child streets, Interstate 490 and Lyell Avenue. This is the first step in a commitment to build a combined 40 or more houses in the area over the next two years.
Many people anticipated or promised a revival with last year's opening of PAETEC Park. The stadium — the only significant investment in the area in years — fronts the neighborhood to the northeast but failed as a catalyst. "Honestly, right now, all you see is a very nice Broad Street ... and you see the stadium," said Scott Benjamin, president and CEO of Charles Settlement House, a neighborhood-based human services provider that has been around for 90 years. "Not a lot has happened if you get across the street from the stadium. Nothing happened if you get a block into the neighborhood. ... This (the planned housing) is the good thing that people expected would come." Rochester Housing Authority will invest $2.5 million on Jay, Orange, Romeyn and Campbell streets, building nine single-family rental homes and a duplex. Groundbreaking is now envisioned as early as December, or in spring 2008. Rent is projected at $906, including utilities, for qualifying, low-income households. The authority has set aside two units with a preference for homeless families. A recent $1.65 million state grant moved the project forward, with remaining funds in city, RHA and private dollars. Funding covers land acquisition, market studies, a reserve fund and other costs. Habitat, meanwhile, expects to make an announcement and possibly break ground in early- to mid-September on its first 10 houses on Orange and Grape streets. "It's a pretty positive situation," said Habitat executive director Arthur Woodward, "because it's a pretty nasty neighborhood."

The problem is blight, the gradual hollowing out through vacancy and demolition, and the transient population, residents say.
Richard H. Jones, 73, has lived in the neighborhood the past 15 years, renting a home on Whitney Street on the opposite side of the JOSANA neighborhood from where Habitat and the Housing Authority will build. He likes his neighbors. The two blocks immediately surrounding his house are intact with no empty or abandoned houses. "I'm not saying (bad) things haven't happened," he said, though he thinks the violence has subsided somewhat. "A couple years ago, two young men were killed a couple houses down, so I'm not saying nothing ever happens. We just enjoy being here, that's all. Sitting on the porch. "If we get those homes, especially owner-occupied homes, I think it will bring a more stable community. When you have people own, they tend to take care of what they have, and they tend to push the criminals out. I would love to see that." The new housing sites are largely on the neighborhood edges, grouped alongside or near one another.

"We're kind of protecting each other's flanks, is what the intention was. We're not out there by ourselves in any area," said Scott Shaw, senior director of property development with the authority. The idea is to start on the outer streets of JOSANA and, "slowly, you push yourself in."
For JOSANA's Walker, the new housing is a long time in coming. The association formed in response to the June 2002 shooting death of 10-year-old Tyshaun Cauldwell. The boy was an innocent bystander when an argument broke out at a drug house on Whitney Street. Tyshaun was shot in the head. Today, on many of the wooden posts that mark off vacant lots in the neighborhood are hand-painted letters that spell out JOSANA, or Tyshaun. Walker and others in the neighborhood dedicated one of the lots as a park in the boy's honor. "We would not have a community over there, in an organized fashion, without Tyshaun," Walker said.

But fixing JOSANA is going to take more than building it back new. Police were back at the Whitney Street drug house in March, executing a search warrant and making arrests for the sale of crack cocaine. The neighborhood is still one of the poorest in the city.
"(Change) won't happen if people just sit back and wait for a grand reformation and rehabilitation to swoop down and make everything better," Benjamin said. He and the Charles Settlement House have gotten more involved in the neighborhood during the past year, hoping residents will do the same. Jones is getting back to regularly attending JOSANA meetings, having taken some time off. Walker said the neighborhood is planning something of a block party, only bigger, and has other projects in the works. "I'm just so excited, I can hardly contain myself."

Brian Sharp
Staff writer, Democrat and Chronicle