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Push for 'Good Cause' eviction protections begins anew as advocates rally in Rochester

Fair housing 1.jpg
Max Schulte
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WXXI News
Donna Robinson, who traveled from Buffalo to Rochester on Thursday,  takes part in a rally at Rochester’s Hall of Justice where advocates for renters in New York state are demanding that lawmakers pass legislation to protect renters by setting up a statewide rental subsidy program for low-income New Yorkers who are homeless, facing eviction, or at risk of losing their housing.

Housing advocates from Buffalo to Syracuse rallied in Rochester on Thursday, calling for meaningful reform in the face of a worsening eviction crisis.

In frigid temperatures and intermittent rain, they stood outside the Hall of Justice, raising signs, banging on buckets, and shouting up at the windows, hoping their voices would be heard.

"It kills me not knowing if my daughter is gonna have a place to stay at night,” said Oscar Brewer, a Rochester tenant organizer with Citizen Action of New York.

He faced eviction in March, he said. The judge threw out the case, but now his landlord is taking him to court again.

Rochester is a city where most residents rent.

Evictions were climbing before the pandemic. And advocates fear the numbers are quickly returning to those levels. More than 1,000 new eviction filings have been lodged in Rochester City Court since October, records show, adding to a weeks-long backup with most tenants yet to be notified.

fair housing 3.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Oscar Brewer with Citizen Action of New York speaks about his own challenges as a renter in Rochester during a rally Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at Rochester’s Hall of Justice. Advocates for renters in New York state are demanding lawmakers pass legislation to protect renters by setting up a statewide rental subsidy program for low-income New Yorkers who are homeless, facing eviction, or at risk of losing their housing.

The past two months have seen more than 350 eviction orders or warrants issued.

“What is that doing to the rest of these kids in this city?” Brewer asked. “This is why our children cannot focus in school, because they're worried about a mom and dad's gonna have a place to lay their head at night.

What he and other advocates are demanding are things like rent vouchers for those at risk of losing their housing, and “Good Cause” legislation that protects tenants against steep rent hikes and arbitrary or retaliatory evictions.

Good Cause was put forward in the last legislative session and failed, under pushback from real estate groups and property owners. But Assembly member Sarah Clark urged advocates to try again. What makes her optimistic?

“What we've seen is a continuing instability in our housing market,” said Assembly member Sarah Clark, D-Rochester, “(and) an unaffordable housing market that continues to grow.”

Research shows that evictions disproportionately affect Black and brown people, particularly women.

Fair housing 2.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Community organizers and renters gather Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, for a prayer after a  rally at Rochester’s Hall of Justice where advocates for renters in New York state demanded lawmakers to pass legislation to protect renters.

“We have to start to put some parameters around housing,” Clark continued, “given how important it is for all these other basic life needs, health care, education, violence, all these things that we're seeing. And if we don't address it, it's just the disparity is going to continue to get bigger and unaffordability is going to rise, and it's just going to become unsustainable.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul has promised a “bold and audacious” housing plan next month when she delivers her State of the State address. But advocates like Luz Velez out of Buffalo have been unimpressed so far.

“In the face of this crisis, Governor Hochul has proposed more of the same old, same old,” she said. “I know you got a permanent gig now. But you got to do better than that."

Her remarks drew cheers, and jeers, from a crowd clearly frustrated that their voices have not resonated louder in Albany.

“And what I want to ask,” said state Sen. Samra Brouk, D-Rochester, “not just for the people here today, but for people listening — for people who maybe this is not your reality, perhaps you have never struggled to pay rent, perhaps you have always had a well-paying job — stop thinking this is us versus them.

“This is all of us.”

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Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.