Attorney General James Announces $1.5 Million In Grants For Two Southern Tier Cities To Implement New Strategic Housing Programs

Attorney General James Announces $1.5 Million in Grants for Two Southern Tier Cities to Implement New Strategic Housing Programs

Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”) 
Advances Neighborhood Revitalization and Helps Cities of
Elmira and Binghamton Address Housing Challenges

ELMIRA – Attorney General Letitia James today announced more than $1.5 million in grants for the Cities of Elmira and Binghamton as part of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”) program. The program provides municipalities the funding to launch innovative programs related to housing and strategic code enforcement. Cities RISE 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.

“In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, families throughout the Southern Tier are continuing to struggle to find and maintain quality, affordable housing options,” said Attorney General James. “Cities RISE is an important program that allows cities across New York to better address code enforcement policies in an effort to meet the unique needs of their communities. Using the funds secured from settlements with banks, my office will continue to work with municipalities to combat New York’s ongoing housing crisis.”

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.

Ten of the original 16 grantees were selected for phase two of the program, which began in November 2018. Phase two of the program provided cities with technical assistance to analyze city data as well as assisted the cities with community engagement to develop program ideas for their grant application. Over the last year, these municipalities have worked with Cities RISE program partners to improve their code enforcement strategies and develop new strategic programs. The cities received expert support from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government’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 municipalities leverage data and evidence in operational work and policy-making. Additionally, last May, the Mayors of the municipalities attended an Executive Education Program at Harvard. The cities also worked with Hester Street, an urban planning, design, and development nonprofit to develop and launch a comprehensive community engagement process.

As a part of Phase three, the 10 cities were able to apply for a grant of up to $1 million to implement innovative and strategic programs related to code enforcement.

The City of Elmira will receive $1 million for the expansion of the city’s rental inspections programs to 1- and 2-family units, which will ensure that all rental units within Elmira are safe and healthy. Additionally, Elmira will use the funds to collaborate with the land bank to limit bad actors from purchasing additional tax adjudicated properties, and to create a loan guarantee fund to provide funds for the development of distressed buildings.

“The selection of the City of Elmira as one of the Cites RISE grant recipients is excellent news for both the City of Elmira and the residents of the City of Elmira,” said Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell. “This grant will help Elmira vastly improve our neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for all of our residents. Many thanks go out to the Attorney General’s Office and Attorney General Letitia James for investing in our neighborhoods.”

The City of Binghamton, which is set to receive $585,000, will use the grant to create a stabilization fund to help break the cycle of disinvestment among tax adjudicated properties and will provide housing and casework support, along with an emergency repair fund, to directly address substandard housing conditions among Binghamton’s most vulnerable residents.

“I join other New York mayors in thanking Attorney General James for supporting efforts to combat blighted and vacant properties and bringing us together on this innovative program,” said Binghamton Mayor Richard C. David. “Binghamton is using data and cutting edge strategies to transform eyesores into opportunities for new housing and community development. Our partnership with the Office of Attorney General and Harvard University Ash Center has improved outcomes in Binghamton and has set a new standard for civic innovation in our region.”

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

“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 ten 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 ten 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 James and her 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 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 New York Attorney General James for the opportunity to work with ten cities on making positive change in their communities.”

“Communities are important to the City. The only constant is change, and it is time to shift,” said Anita Lewis, of the Focus 2 Finish Economic Opportunity Program. “The Cities Rise project is the foundation and the connector to rising our small city by engaging and facilitating the stakeholders. There is more work to do and it is going to take local tenants, landlords, DSS, city and county government and community based organizations to create better neighborhoods and improved housing.”