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AG James: $8 million-plus grant awards to 10 cities to develop new strategic housing programs; Buffalo and Niagara Falls included

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Wed, Jan 15th 2020 03:35 pm

Cities RISE advance neighborhood revitalization & help cities address housing challenges

Attorney General Letitia James announced over $8 million in grant awards as part of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”). Cities will use these grants to launch innovative programs related to housing and strategic code enforcement. The program aims to innovatively address and transform blighted, vacant or poorly maintained problem properties through the use of housing and community data from various state agencies.

Launched in April 2017, Cities RISE advances the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s comprehensive strategy for helping New York families and communities rebuild from the housing crisis. In the first phase of the program, 16 municipalities received a two-year subscription to a data platform designed to integrate and analyze data such as code enforcement records, tax liens and fire and police data to innovatively address and transform blighted, vacant or poorly maintained problem properties.

“In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, New Yorkers are continuing to struggle to find and maintain quality affordable housing options,” James said. “Cities RISE provides a thoughtful approach to how municipalities revitalize its communities, and ensures that housing issues are addressed. My office will continue to proudly use the funds secured from settlements with banks to combat New York’s housing crisis.”

Phase two of the program started in November 2018. Ten of the original 16 grantees were selected for phase two. Over the past year, these cities have worked with RISE program partners to improve their code enforcement strategies and develop new strategic programs. The cities received expert support from Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Tolemi, a social enterprise that created the BuildingBlocks platform used by all Cities RISE participants. Harvard and Tolemi helped cities leverage data and evidence in operational work and policy-making.

Additionally, last May, the mayors of the cities attended an executive education program at Harvard. Additionally, cities worked with Hester Street, an urban planning, design and development nonprofit to develop and launch a comprehensive community engagement process.

As part of phase two, cities were invited to apply for a grant of up to $1 million to develop new strategic housing or code enforcement programs developed during phase two utilizing their improved data analysis capabilities as well as input their community engagement.

All 10 cities will receive will receive between $546,000-$1,000,000 to implement strategic code enforcement programs with an emphasis on making code enforcement more effective, efficient and equitable.

Enterprise Community Partners, a national community development intermediary that specializes in affordable housing, is overseeing the initiative.

Cities RISE grantees include:

  • City of Albany
  • City of Binghamton
  • City of Buffalo
  • City of White Plains
  • City of Elmira
  • City of Mount Vernon
  • City of Newburgh
  • City of Niagara Falls
  • City of Rochester
  • City of Syracuse

“Enterprise is excited to support this final step in Cities RISE, the culmination of several years of hard work by the government and community leaders of participating municipalities to develop equitable, strategic code enforcement initiatives,” said Judi Kende, vice president and market leader, Enterprise Community Partners. “Enterprise is proud to partner with Attorney General James to give communities across the state the unique opportunity to improve the lives of local residents.”

“We are excited to see these 10 grantees leverage data through the BuildingBlocks platform to improve housing code compliance, facilitate cross-agency collaboration, and launch innovative neighborhood revitalization strategies,” said Andrew Kieve, CEO and Co-Founder of Tolemi.  

“Cities RISE demonstrates the power and potential of community-led problem solving,” said Nisha Baliga, co-executive director of Hester Street. “Hester Street was thrilled to support all 10 municipalities in engaging residents, neighborhood leaders and CBOs most impacted by code enforcement actions in the process of co-creating proactive and equitable code enforcement solutions. We’re excited about what this kind of participatory policy making can mean for the future of equitable code enforcement everywhere and commend the attorney general’s office for supporting this community-driven process.”

“It has been a great honor for us to support mayors and their teams in making their governments more effective, efficient and equitable through innovation,” said professor Jorrit de Jong, faculty director of the Ash Center’s government innovations program. “The Cities RISE program has been a superb platform to help cities build the capabilities to tackle challenges around vacant, abandoned and distressed properties. We are grateful to NY Attorney General James for the opportunity to work with 10 cities on making positive change in their communities.”

“The City of Buffalo is proud of our partnership with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Enterprise and other stakeholders who helped us secure almost $1 million in funding that will provide the resources necessary to transform our code enforcement efforts into a proactive system that improves the quality of housing and neighborhoods for low-income residents across the city,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “The commitment of NYS Attorney General James in utilizing settlement funding to address our most important housing needs, will provide vital resources to ensure that all of our residents have access to safe and healthy homes.”

“The City of Niagara Falls is proud to be selected for phase two of the NYS attorney general's office Cities RISE program,” Niagara Falls Mayor Robert M. Restaino said. “The funding provided will greatly assist our city in accomplishing the goals of the attorney general for cities across New York state. On behalf of the City of Niagara Falls, I would like to thank NYS Attorney General Letitia James for her commitment to assisting improvement of communities across the state.”

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