This week, the City of Rochester took two important steps to address housing affordability. First, City Council passed legislation amending the Charter of the City of Rochester to redefine affordability. Second, the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development (NBD) released its Request for Proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developments with new efforts taken to target low income and special needs populations. While these steps are only the beginning of the actions the City is taking, they represent an important commitment to focusing our community’s efforts on those who are most in need.
Prior to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Charter defined affordable housing as housing affordable to anyone earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI is calculated based on the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes all of Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Wayne, and Yates counties. The inclusion of non-city residents skews the median income upwards; in the MSA, the median income for a family of four is $74,000, while in the city alone median income is less than half of that. Mayor Lovely Warren directed City staff from the Office of Innovation and the NBD’s Planning and Housing teams to look into why the Charter’s definition was not adequately reflecting the reality faced by Rochester residents.
After thoughtful deliberation amongst the interdepartmental team, it was determined that the use of the MSA and not the city median income could not be changed due to the ways in which it would interfere with HUD funding streams and other programming. However, the team decided that the City could adopt more specific HUD terminology that would provide for a more nuanced understanding of who the target populations of the City’s affordable housing efforts should be. Eventually, it was recommended to the Mayor that the Charter be amended to define low and moderate income as follows:
With these definitions in place, the City has the language to say that affordable housing efforts ought to target those who are Extremely Low Income or Very Low Income because those are the financial circumstances actually faced by residents with the greatest housing affordability challenges.
The real impact of the Charter amendment is how it informs other policies and work undertaken by the City. The first tangible result of the Charter amendment is how it informed the RFP for affordable housing developments that also was released this week. Successful proposals receive City support either in the form of funding or letters of support written to New York State. The NBD Housing team took the new affordability definition into account and changed the way proposals will now be scored. The new RFP awards additional points to proposals that have plans to address Extremely Low Income and Very Low Income residents, as well as special needs populations such as domestic abuse victims or those suffering from drug addiction.
Housing affordability is a challenge that the City is constantly working to address. Thanks to the direction of Mayor Warren and the efforts of the Housing team, Planning team, and countless internal and external partners who were consulted, Rochester has taken important, innovative steps to support those in need. As the Office of Innovation continues to work on the housing affordability issue, we will keep the blog updated with our latest efforts.