Cities RISE program to prioritize areas with high poverty rates for funding

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

An apparently abandoned house in the city of Syracuse.

A new program offered through Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office will award local governments in New York state up to $20 million to help fund housing improvement and blight elimination efforts over the next two years.

The Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement program will provide funding to governments from 2017-19 so they can improve data systems to spur housing revitalization through new innovation and operational strategies, Schneiderman’s office announced on Tuesday.

“Cities RISE is yet another important step forward as we work to help New York families recover from the housing crisis,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “I’m proud to fund Cities RISE, which will build on our significant work over the past three years – using our settlements with the big banks that were responsible for the housing crisis to revitalize neighborhoods and create safer, more stable communities for New Yorkers across the state.”

Municipalities with over 25,000 residents like Syracuse will be able to apply for funding from the program. Cities, towns and villages with high concentrations of poverty will be given preference for the program’s funds, according to the press release.

Syracuse has the most concentrated minority poverty among blacks and Hispanics in the United States, according to a 2015 report compiled by the Century Foundation think tank. Minority neighborhoods south of East Adams Street near Interstate 81, in the city’s center, have a 60-80 percent poverty rate, per the report.

A large percentage of the Syracuse Housing Authority’s public housing is located in this area, with complexes such as Pioneer Homes and Toomey Abbott Towers bordering I-81, the State University of New York Upstate Medical University and a portion of Syracuse University’s campus.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has previously told that she believes the city needs help from both the state and federal government in the long-term to address poverty in Syracuse.

The city also has some of the oldest housing stock in the region. Seventy-two percent of single-, two- and three-family city homes were built before 1939, according to a report from the Maxwell Community Benchmarks Program.

A large number of Syracuse children have been poisoned by lead paint — which was banned for commercial use in 1978 — while living in old, deteriorating housing in the city. Lead inspections and violations have been disproportionately centered in some of Syracuse’s poorest minority communities, such as the Near Westside and South Side.

Housing blight also remains a problem in the Syracuse. The Greater Syracuse Land Bank has been working to demolish “blighted” properties in the city, per, with the help of about $5 million in grants from Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative.

As of March, Katelyn Wright, the land bank’s executive director, told there were 200 blighted properties in the city slated for demolition by the land bank.

The Cities RISE program’s funds are competitive. Only a maximum of 40 New York municipalities could receive funding from the program, per the release. Schneiderman’s office will be partnering with Enterprise Community Partners and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation — two nonprofit organizations focused on creating affordable housing in the U.S. and community development — to facilitate the program.

“This initiative will provide a powerful assist to the state’s cities to enable them to build their capacity to address blight and problem properties, not only to do so more effectively, but to do so in ways that will foster healthier and more equitable communities,” Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, said in the release.


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