Attorney General Letitia James was in Elmira last month to announce that the City had won a one million dollar grant to address our housing challenges.
Since the press conference, several folks have asked us for additional information on Cities RISE, so here it is!
What is Cities RISE?
The program acronym stands for “Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement.” The goal of the program is to challenge municipalities to develop appropriate and innovative code enforcement strategies and work toward higher quality housing, responsible property owners and cohesive neighborhoods. In May, four members of the Elmira Cities RISE team—Mayor Dan Mandell, Community Development Director Emma Miran, Code Enforcement Director John McCracken, and Chemung County Planning Commissioner Nicolette Wagoner—attended a retreat at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation to brainstorm ideas for this grant, also known as Phase 3. During that retreat, they created a 5-part strategy that the city is now working to implement.
What’s the problem this grant will help us solve?
As most readers are likely aware, Elmira has faced decades of disinvestment due to manufacturing decline and signification population loss and suburban flight, resulting in a high rate of concentrated poverty. The declining tax base has affected the city’s financial stability and operational capacity, ultimately creating a cycle of disinvestment within the community. Supporting and ensuring the effective operation and capacity of Code Enforcement is one way to support the revitalization of neighborhoods and housing stock.
Macro-economic factors and overall lack of private investment in Elmira—and its housing stock in particular—has resulted in poor quality housing throughout the City. These issues have manifested themselves in a weak housing market symbolized by rundown and underutilized properties, even in historically flourishing neighborhoods.
So … what exactly is the City implementing now?
Over the course of the past several years working on Cities RISE, the Elmira team has integrated data on police and fire issues, utilities, code violations and general property conditions into software that now effectively provides insights for planning and neighborhood development projects. The system shows neighborhoods with concentrated areas of code violations and low property values (generally reflecting neighborhood development needs) in the City. Using this data, the Elmira team identified five specific action items with which to best utilize the $1 million grant. These are:
- Inspect of one- and two-family rentals. While this might not seem like a big deal, it is. This grant will provide the city with capacity to hire additional code enforcement officers to inspect one- and two-family homes, which are often unknown locations for code violations or units that owners have illegally converted.
- Restrict buyers at the County Foreclosure auction to those who have not lost a property for non-payment of taxes within a set period.
- Encourage strong neighborhood ties through clean-up days with partner groups and the establishment of grassroots community groups.
- Establish a code violation bureau to administer code cases, helping to reduce the time spent waiting to adjudicate cases against property owners whose units are in disrepair.
- Create incentives for homeowners to improve housing (through mechanisms currently in development).
While this may not sound like a million dollars’ worth of work, it will take money, time, energy and collaboration to see this effort to completion. In the long term, the City is optimistic that these efforts could help stem the rates of population decline and flight from Elmira to outlying areas, and ultimately create population growth among key demographic groups including families and young professionals.