One of Rochester’s toughest neighborhoods is getting a sprucing up by way of new, low-income houses.
El Camino Estates, built with private and public financing, is a group of nine three-bedroom and 16 four-bedroom houses scattered through the northeast neighborhoods of Rochester. All were built on vacant lots owned by the city located in the Conkey Avenue area, including Harris, Woodford and Nielson streets. Some of the houses are still being built.
In all there will be 25 single-family rental units serving low-income households.
Mary Houchins, a Monroe Community College student who lives in an El Camino Estates house with her family, said it has been one of the best experiences of her life.
“The day I moved into my home was the beginning a new life me and my family,” she said. “I can’t wait for the summer to go out and plant my flowers.”
El Camino is part of a plan to revitalize the neighborhood, which has had a steady stream of crime. It is the neighborhood where 14-year-old Tyquan Rivera shot and seriously injured a police officer. The crime, which Rivera was found guilty of, was less than a mile from most of the homes in El Camino Estates. There have been a dozen shootings in the northeast section of Rochester since April.
But leaders of the project say providing housing builds the neighborhood in positive ways and creates an atmosphere and culture of improvement.
“Providing residents with affordable, quality housing is important to the health of our neighborhoods,” said Eugenio Marlin, president and CEO of Ibero-American Development Corp., a partner in the project with the city and Rochester’s Cornerstone Group. “Growth has to happen steadily and in an organized manor.”
Marlin was one of numerous project and community leaders who last week celebrated the opening of a home at 273 Conkey Ave.
The city has taken other housing initiatives recently.
This summer, city leaders celebrated the sale of more than 500 houses in a program that helps first-time buyers realize the dream of home ownership and puts rehabilitated, abandoned properties back on the tax rolls.
The program, called HOME Rochester, is available to low- to moderate-income individuals and families. Homes are sold by the Rochester Development Fund Corp. to buyers who must qualify for a conventional, fixed-rate mortgage and pay at least $1,500 down.
Last spring, the board of the New York State Housing Finance Agency approved $6.7 million for interior and exterior improvements at Rochester’s Westfall Heights Apartments, such as new kitchen cabinets, a roof replacement and new furnaces. There is a plan for a new building that will contain a community room, laundry facilities, a computer lab and a management office.
The total cost of the project is $10.85 million, and a majority of the units will be set aside for households with incomes up to $39,900 for a family of four.
El Camino Estates has largely been paid for by federal tax credits, which help offset development costs. Funding was also provided by the City of Rochester, the New York State Homes and Community Renewal Tax Credit Assistance Program, federal stimulus funds, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and private equity from the Richman Capital Group.
The El Camino Estates lots were selected to serve as the linchpin of a wider, sustainable community development program designed to benefit the area’s residents.
“I’m pleased to see this project come to fruition. Development like this is necessary for the revitalization of the Northeast Quadrant,” said Deputy Mayor Tom Richards. “New housing opportunities like El Camino Estates help lay the foundation to create stronger communities in our city.”
Since breaking ground six months ago, 21 families have moved into the newly built single-family homes throughout Rochester’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. There were 400 people employed through the project
“It’s really been remarkable to see what’s happened in such a short time,” Rep. Louise Slaughter of Fairport said during last week’s home opening event.
R. Carlos Carballada, the city’s commissioner of neighborhood and business development, said the buildings will make the neighborhood look better, but the project is about more than just bricks and mortar.
“What they really have is a safe place to live,” he said. “It’s not just about the building. It’s about the people inside.”