Why would anyone demolish 60 units that the tenants enjoy, and whose footprint in the middle of Cobbs Hill Park is nearly invisible? Because the owners, Rochester Management Inc., are thinking first about the corporate bottom line, rather than the tenants satisfaction and the shortage of quality senior housing with extremely low rents. They have stated that maintenance and operations will be more efficient with a multistory modern building.
Cobbs Hill Village has a tenants association, regulated by state rules. They polled the tenants and found that the majority would rather stay put, rather than move to an elevator apartment house. That is even with a guarantee from the landlord that their rent would not increase if they moved to the new building! They turned down the offer of “amenities” such as a dishwasher, central air and exhaust fans because they value the sense of community offered by the grouping of one-story cottages connected by a generous verandah, located in the midst of huge trees and lawns. The front yard verandah provides for friendships and socialization, far more appropriate for aging seniors than private balconies where loneliness can lead to depression. The architects of this 1961 gem knew what they were doing.
Perhaps the chairman of the board doesn’t know this history. In a recent guest essay he characterized the Village as “motel style accommodations that offer little in the way of privacy, security or amenities.”
He should listen to his tenants, who know that the police blotter for their little community in the park is consistently blank year after year. They are fearful of stair halls and elevators with only a camera to offer security. Perhaps they remember Hanover Houses. He should read noted authors such as Jane Jacobs, who explain the value of design that maximizes social interaction in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
Cobbs Hill Village exists because this site, originally barracks for World War II prisoners of war, was offered by the city for construction of affordable senior housing with the provision that the land would revert to the city when the mortgages were paid off (presently 2041). Rents are the lowest in Rochester: $325 for a studio and $515 for a one-bedroom unit. Replacement apartments proposed will rent for $650 to $1,200. The current rents are affordable to Rochester seniors with incomes from $13,000 to $20,000. On the other hand, incomes of $26,000 to $47,000 will be required for the replacement units. Rochester needs the very low rent units! Over 60 percent of seniors in the city are paying more than they can afford for housing; over 30 percent of their income, according to the U.S. Census, American Housing Survey for 2013/Rochester.
Many who oppose the proposed new construction look forward to a day when Cobbs Hill Park will not have an apartment complex in its midst. By 2041, the future City Council will have the option of returning the 10-acre site to parkland. During the remaining 24 years, I urge these advocates, which include the Sierra Club and Friends of Washington Grove, to work with the city and state agencies to identify funding sources to relocate the tenants appropriately in 2041 and remove man-made improvements from the site to make that possible.
Gov. Cuomo launched a housing budget last week that provides $75 million for rehab of Mitchell-Lama projects (that’s Cobbs Hill Village) and $125 million for new housing for seniors. Let Rochester Management maintain the present very low-income community and build new units for the higher income bracket seniors on another site.
Rosen is the staff architect at Mark IV Construction and has been responsible for the design of nearly 1,000 apartments and townhouses for the elderly.
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