Leonard leaves ‘legacy of growth’ at Rochester Area Community Foundation

When Jennifer Leonard applied to the Rochester Area Community Foundation nearly three decades ago, she wanted to help make the agency a powerful tool for community betterment while serving as a regional center for family philanthropy.

Mission accomplished.

During Leonard’s tenure, the Community Foundation’s assets that benefit the Greater Rochester-Finger Lakes region have grown from $32 million to $598 million at the end of its fiscal year on March 31.

The foundation – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – has distributed more than $547 million in grants and scholarships since its founding in 1972.

Rochester Area Community Foundation President and CEO Jennifer Leonard poses for a portrait on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Photo by Lauren Petracca)
Rochester Area Community Foundation President and CEO Jennifer Leonard poses for a portrait on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Photo by Lauren Petracca)

Leonard, who has led the foundation as its president and CEO for 29-plus years, will be retiring at month’s end. She is the foundation’s third top executive — and longest serving — in the organization’s history.

Simeon Banister, the foundation’s executive vice president, will succeed Leonard and starts the job Oct. 1.

Leonard is proud of being able to lead a strong, local community foundation that maintains positive partnerships.

“We’ve delivered on that plan to make this a center for optimism and positive change,” she said.

Rochester Area Community Foundation, in partnership with philanthropists and community partners, works to improve the quality of life for people who live in the eight-county region through its leadership and strategic grantmaking.

The foundation, as the region’s largest grant maker, focuses on two goals — creating an equitable community and strengthening the region’s vitality.

The foundation has 36 employees and operates 1,500 funds.

Before moving to Rochester in 1993, Leonard was vice president of the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles and a national writer and consultant in philanthropy.

Throughout her career, she learned about the importance of partnerships – among members of the community, as well as the government, businesses and donors – and how those partnerships can make a difference by working together toward positive change.

Leonard credits the kindness of the Rochester community for helping the foundation grow over the years.

“Charitable giving relies on people caring about each other,” she said.

Leonard noted that the foundation has strived to stay at the forefront of change.

Early on, for example, the foundation saw the need for and spoke about the importance of, a diverse community. As Rochester struggled with racial equity, the foundation was aware of the statistics on racial disparity and its link to poverty, Leonard noted.

“We addressed racial equity before it was on everyone’s agenda,” she said, adding that the foundation was not afraid to have uncomfortable discussions to help move forward.

“Building awareness is a precursor to changing behavior.”

Late last year a Sienna College research poll on racial attitudes showed that local awareness is expanding, with three-quarters of respondents saying they would embrace initiatives to reduce racism’s impact.

The Community Foundation initiated the poll series in 2012 after ACT Rochester, a Community Foundation affiliate, documented severe racial and ethnic disparities that were holding back the community’s progress.

While the poll shows attitudes are changing, Leonard notes there is more work to be done.

The foundation has several ways to help, she noted, including its Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, that supports projects, programs and initiatives that address and remedy inequities and injustices and builds common ground throughout the region.

Immediately following her retirement, Leonard, who lives in Brighton, will be spending more time with her family – including her husband and two adult daughters.

She plans to remain living in the Rochester area and expects to continue to get involved in projects for the betterment of the community.

“I’m sure I’ll get to the point where I’m saying I don’t know how I found the time to work,” she joked.

Leonard is leaving the foundation well cared for with Banister.

She described Banister as the quintessential Rochesterian who is well respected — and well connected — throughout the community.

Prior to his role at the foundation, Banister’s career spanned public and private sectors and included the New York State Senate, state Department of Taxation and Finance, the State University of New York and several private commercial real estate firms.

Incoming Rochester Area Community Foundation president and CEO Simeon Banister. (Photo by Lauren Petracca)
Incoming Rochester Area Community Foundation president and CEO Simeon Banister. (Photo by Lauren Petracca)

A graduate of North Carolina Central University and the Princeton Theological Seminary, Banister is a sought-after speaker, most recently on Rochester’s history of redlining and racial inequities.

For several years, he has been president of the Greater Rochester Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and serves on the boards of the University of Rochester Medical Center, The Children’s Agenda, Genesee Land Trust and the Congressional Award Foundation.

“He loves Rochester and is optimistic about the future, and we both share that,” Leonard said. “Rochester has so much potential to be a great 21st Century city. Simeon knows that and he can help get it there.”

Banister, a Rochester native, has been with the foundation since 2017. He lives in the city with his family.

He is focused on what he refers to as “taking charge of change” and continuing the foundation’s momentum.

Like Leonard, he is a fan of the late writer James Baldwin’s quote “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“There is often a tendency to dwell on the challenge,” Banister said. “We need to work together and push our way toward the solutions.”

An example of that collaboration came in March 2020 when the foundation and United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes launched the Community Crisis Fund.

Banister co-led the committee that met every day for several months to review and approve grant requests.

As a result, nearly $7 million was distributed by the committee during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the priorities moving forward is continuing to lead change efforts for environmental justice and sustainability, Banister said, noting that such funding is rooted in the understanding that the adverse effects of climate change are felt disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Grantmaking efforts in this area aim to empower the most vulnerable communities through investment and inclusion and to make sure that all individuals – in urban, suburban and rural areas – have access to the benefits of an equitable and green economy, he explained.

Banister is confident about the organization’s growth, given its solid foundation, which was built by those who came before him, including Leonard.

“It’s a wonderful organization with good bones and I’m grateful to build on that,” Banister said.

Leonard has been recognized locally and beyond for her many contributions over the years, including receiving the Athena Award from the Women’s Council of the Rochester Business Alliance (now the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce) in 2010.

She most recently ranked on this year’s RBJ Power 100 and, in 2019, she was one of 10 women inducted into RBJ’s Circle of Excellence.

Area business and community leaders spoke of Leonard’s impact on the region.

Tom Richards, RACF board chair, said the mark that Leonard made on the community and everyone she has worked with will be present for years to come.

“She has been an outstanding leader who encourages and nurtures community-minded donors to address tough issues here at home and skillfully engages community partners to make our region a better place to live, work and educate our children,” Richards has said.

Gina Cuyler, M.D., vice president for Health Equity and Community Investments at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and a RACF board member, said Leonard has been a convener of both individual and collective resources to drive meaningful, measurable change and impact for all.

“Her impact and legacy will improve the lives and communities she has served, long after her retirement,” Cuyler said. “During her three decades of leadership, she has ensured that everyone had a place at the table and could contribute to making our communities sustainably better.”

Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, described Leonard as the true definition of a community champion.

“Her efforts in creating an inclusive, equitable community have been evident through her early work on helping our community understand the importance of social capital and social connections, her push to focus on disparities through data and by centering conversations around the indisputable facts of race and inequities,” Saunders said. “Her impact is woven into the fabric of this community and leaves an indelible mark on us all.”

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Scorecard shows economic inequity in Rochester

It’s a scorecard without a score, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Rochester residents of color trail their white counterparts in every category that measures economic stability, according to a new report from Prosperity Now, a nonprofit organization that advocates for, develops and tests approaches to build wealth.

The income poverty rate among all city of Rochester residents is 26.7 percent, according to the report. And while that rate is 11.1 percent for white, non-Hispanic residents, the income poverty rate for people of color is 34.1 percent. Rochester’s Latino population has an income poverty rate of 37.9 percent, American Indian’s is 35.2 percent and African American’s is 33.4 percent.

The overall unemployment rate at the time the Prosperity Now Scorecard was researched was 10.2 percent. But among white residents that rate was just 4.1 percent. People of color had an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent.

The homeownership rate in the city of Rochester was 36.4 percent. White residents had a homeownership rate of 47 percent, while people of color had a rate of 27.8 percent. And the percentage of Rochester residents with a four-year college degree was 25.1 percent. Some 42.3 percent of white residents had a four-year degree, but just 11.7 percent of residents of color had a four-year degree.

The data improves when the entire county of Monroe is analyzed. The income poverty rate decreased to 10 percent, with the white population poverty rate of 4.3 percent and the poverty rate countywide for people of color of 26.7 percent. The unemployment rate countywide was 4.5 percent; white residents had an unemployment rate of 3 percent, while residents of color had a rate of 7.4 percent.

The report notes that “racial economic inequality limits a household’s ability to achieve prosperity, and it is important to explore the impact that race and ethnicity have on outcomes.”

Though the Scorecard does not assess localities on local-level policy measures, Prosperity Now has assembled resources into a guide for municipal policymakers and advocates that can be used to enact policies that can have positive impacts on the Scorecard’s local outcome measures: A Municipal Blueprint for a More Inclusive Path to Prosperity.

Key elements include:
• Raise the minimum wage in line with the local cost of living
• Promote and provide access to safe and affordable banking products
• Promote free and low-cost tax prep services and tax credits
• Keep residents in their homes by helping avoid evictions, prohibiting source of income discrimination for low-income renters and providing mortgage foreclosure and property tax diversion programs for homeowners
• Prioritize entrepreneurs of color for procurement and contracting

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Rochester poverty rate decreases, still among top three nationwide

Poverty in the city of Rochester has fallen in the most recent five-year period, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

From 2015 to 2019, the overall poverty rate fell to 31.3 percent from 32.6 percent in the five-year period that ended in 2018. Additionally, Rochester’s child poverty rate, habitually the worst in the nation, dropped from 51 percent to 47.7 percent.

The city’s rate of extreme poverty — below half the federal poverty line — fell from 16.2 percent to 15.4 percent during the most recent five-year period. Despite the improvement, Rochester ranks third in overall poverty among the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan areas, behind just Detroit, Mich., and Cleveland, Ohio.

Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester
Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester

There are now more than 5,000 fewer people living in poverty, including 3,700 fewer children, since the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative first began its work implementing strategies to reduce poverty in 2015. During that time, the total number of people in poverty in Rochester dropped from 67,443 to 62,146 and the total number of children in poverty fell to 21,970 from 25,674.

The data was compiled by RMAPI, in partnership with the city of Rochester and ACT Rochester based on new information from the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey. The survey uses a larger sample size, making it the most comprehensive and reliable measure of poverty, officials said.

The latest five-year average reflects years during which RMAPI was working to reduce poverty in the region. The community collaborative was convened in early 2015 and spent months assessing the root causes of poverty and what changes would be needed to bring lasting poverty reduction. Implementation strategies began in 2016.

“These results show that RMAPI’s community collaborative approach is helping move us in the right direction and that by working together, we can make the systemic changes needed for real and significant poverty reduction,” said RMAPI’s newly-appointed Executive Director Aqua Porter. “While we are so encouraged to see that more than 5,000 people have been able to move out of poverty through RMAPI’s first five years, including more than 3,700 children, we know that there are still tremendous challenges ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis that Rochester has ever faced, and data collected by RMAPI shows that the effects have disproportionately fallen on the most vulnerable in our community.”

In 2013, Rochester ranked as the fifth poorest city among the top 75 metropolitan areas in the United States.

“As we face these challenges, we are confident that RMAPI has shown our community the stairway out of poverty. We must continue to make fundamental changes to the systems that have failed people in poverty, often by design. We must continue to push as a community to eradicate structural racism and all of its effects, from legislation that criminalizes poverty to wage disparities that create artificial barriers to self-sufficiency,” Porter said. “And we must speak together as a community to advocate for new policies that address and eliminate these disparities. There is much work still to be done, but we are confident that our community will rise to the challenge.”

The RMAPI and ACT Rochester report also compared Rochester’s poverty rate to that of 17 other principal cities of similar size. Among the benchmark group, the Census data found that Rochester ranks first in overall poverty, childhood poverty and extreme poverty. Buffalo ranked second with an overall poverty rate of 30.1 percent, a childhood poverty rate of 46 percent and an extreme poverty rate of 14.9 percent.

Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester
Source: RMAPI, ACT Rochester, city of Rochester

“While today’s report on Rochester’s poverty rate brings a welcome sign of progress, I will not be satisfied until we have delivered true economic equality to our city,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “I am happy that fewer people are living in poverty, but I’m also outraged that most of those who remain in poverty are Black and Brown as a result of our city’s shameful history of institutional racism and structural inequality.

“The economic fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic will certainly exacerbate this disparity, so I am looking forward to working with our partners in the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and the human service agencies under the control of the Monroe County Executive as we redouble our efforts to provide every resident in Rochester an equal opportunity to reach their full potential,” Warren said.

RMAPI is organizing partners to collaborate on poverty in ways Rochester has not seen before, officials noted. Coordinating and aligning institutions around common priorities, policies, practices and shared measures allow for an integrated system that can achieve visible progress at the individual and community levels.

In order to create the greatest opportunity for poverty reduction, RMAPI has focused on two critical areas: increasing the affordability and accessibility of basic needs and improving workforce development.

“Escaping poverty means being able to earn a livable wage, advance through education, bring up children comfortably, enjoy the fruits of one’s labor and have a stake in the future of our community. By working for policies that increase earned income while bringing the cost of living within people’s reach, RMAPI is providing onramps to the middle class for our neighbors,” said Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation. ACT Rochester is a Community Foundation affiliate whose 2013 poverty report helped lead to RMAPI’s formation.

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RMAPI installs interim leader as executive director

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative has selected Aqua Porter as its next executive director. Porter had served as interim director since May.

“Aqua is exactly what this coalition needs right now. We already have a group of community leaders who are working together and beginning to see real change. Her experience leading complex teams, her change management skills and her passion for equity will solidify the gains we’ve made,” said RMAPI co-Chairmen Daan Braveman and Jerome Underwood in a statement Tuesday. “She will help build the culture of results and accountability that we need to ensure we continue on the path to a community that has equity of opportunity for all our neighbors. During her interim role, we’ve had a chance to see her in action and couldn’t be more optimistic about our future as a result.”

Aqua Porter
Aqua Porter

Since May, Porter has forged strong bonds and working relationships with the members of the coalition and the backbone staff that supports it, officials noted. She brings decades of experience in a variety of roles at General Motors Corp. and Xerox Holdings Corp., including 17 years in vice president roles at Xerox in Rochester. She has a lifelong commitment to equity and justice, evidenced by numerous awards and serves on multiple community boards.

The RMAPI coalition is a collective impact effort comprising 30 organizations working toward the common goal of eliminating poverty and increasing self-sufficiency. Coalition members include local, state and federal government, nonprofit organizations, funders, area employers, education leaders and community members who bring contextual expertise to the group’s decision making.

In its first five years, the coalition has made significant strides, officials said. Members developed a shared strategy focused on workforce development and basic needs. Under the leadership of former Director Leonard Brock, the group began to address both the short-term needs of communities struggling with poverty and the longer-term systemic changes needed to change the community’s trajectory.

Advocacy has emerged as a strategy RMAPI can use effectively, according to Tuesday’s statement. An unprecedented level of cooperation across sectors and among community members has led to some significant gains, on both the short and long-term priorities.

A seven-member search committee made up of RMAPI’s co-chairs and members of the Steering Committee, including people with lived experience of poverty, committed to finding the coalition’s next leader. A search consultant identified more than 150 candidates nationwide who were vetted by the search committee.

The Steering Committee voted unanimously to approve Porter as the new executive director at its meeting on Nov. 30.

“I have been so impressed with the work of the coalition and the backbone staff during the past few months,” Porter said. “It’s humbling to take on this role and responsibility for our community, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Eliminating poverty is a community challenge that can be solved by working together collectively to transform systems, policies and practices that have stymied us for decades. There is no silver bullet. But I am truly excited about what I know we will be able to accomplish together, with a focus on results and accountability.

“Justice demands nothing less of all of us.”

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Legislation introduced to reduce childhood poverty

Legislation has been introduced by Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, and Rep. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, to reduce child poverty statewide by 50 percent over the next decade.

The “Childhood Poverty Reduction Act,” if passed, would be the most significant commitment of any state nationwide codifying into law a childhood poverty reduction goal. Children’s advocacy groups that are part of a statewide antipoverty coalition partnered with state officials and community partners on Thursday to announce the proposed legislation.

Larry Marx
Larry Marx

“Poverty is not destiny,” said the Children’s Agenda CEO Larry Marx. “It’s a moral outrage that a state as wealthy as New York has as many children living in poverty as we do; cutting that in half over 10 years is entirely realistic. England did just that from 1994 – 2008, and they did it with tax credits, expanding childcare, Pre-K and home visiting programs for low-income and working families. The public policy decisions New York state makes or fails to make in these same areas from now until 2030 will determine the trajectory of the health, education and success for hundreds of thousands of this generation’s children.”

During Thursday’s event, advocates asked political candidates to sign a pledge to support the legislation and for elected officials to co-sponsor it and act immediately to take steps to reduce child poverty statewide. In addition, advocates outlined ways the community can support the Child Poverty Prevention Act, including joining the Children’s Agenda’s Advocacy Network.

Nearly 3 million New Yorkers, including 895,000 children, live in poverty. One in five kids statewide struggles to meet basic needs. The issue has been compounded by COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn, plunging an estimated additional 325,000 New York children into or near poverty between March and July, according to the United Hospital Fund. Rochester stands as the city with the 3rd highest child poverty rate of any nationwide.

“The effects of child poverty on health are pervasive and begin at birth and continue into adulthood and retirement age,” said Patrick Brophy M.D., chair in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Rochester Medical Center. “Low-income children are at greater risk of suffering from low birth weight, asthma, hypertension and obesity. Lack of adequate care means chronic health conditions worsen and children aren’t able to thrive at school, furthering the gap between rich and poor.

“We fully support assembly member Bronson’s commitment to providing the resources and support for low-income families and children to live healthy and secure lives.”

The Child Poverty Reduction Act would establish a Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council tasked with developing a plan to cut New York’s child poverty rate in half over 10 years. The Council would explore expanding specific policies, making new recommendations and releasing reports to make sure that New York meets its goal. The Council would develop and publish a timeline with yearly benchmarks.

Policy proposals reviewed by the Advisory Council will include, but will not be limited to:

• Strengthening and expanding New York’s Earned Income Tax Credit to align with the state’s minimum wage; cover more tax-paying immigrants and young, childless adults; and distribute quarterly payments;
• Expanding and strengthening New York’s child tax credit to include young children and eliminate the minimum income threshold;
• Expanding work training and employment programs;
• Increasing access to subsidized housing vouchers;
• Expanding access to subsidized childcare;

The legislation also would require an evaluation of the effects that any adjustment or reduction by the director of the budget will have on child poverty and requires the evaluation to be made available to the public.

“I grew up in a family of 12 children in a rural town outside of Binghamton,” Bronson said. “My mom and dad both worked full-time jobs and worked the family farm to provide for our families. We barely had two nickels to rub together, so I have a real-world experience of dealing with poverty. Whether rural or urban poverty, we know the detrimental effects of living in poverty can last years, if not a lifetime; this is especially true for children who are raised in poverty.

“But fortunately, we also know that we can take steps today to help lift families up out of poverty and into a brighter future,” Bronson added. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleague, Sen. Ramos, in sponsoring legislation that will put strategies in place to reduce childhood poverty by 50 percent in five years. The Childhood Poverty Reduction Act will help our families here in Rochester and throughout New York State.”

Children’s Advocacy Coalition Members statewide include Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, American Academy of Pediatrics, Children’s Defense Fund-NY, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Prevent Child Abuse NY, Westchester Children’s Association, The Education Trust-New York and Robin Hood. Monroe County community partners include Action for a Better Community, Golisano Children’s Hospital and Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

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Report: Rochester’s child poverty rate, disparities still high

African American children are nearly four times more likely to experience child poverty than white chidlren, while Latino children are more than three times more likely, an updated report from ACT Rochester and the Rochester Area Community Foundation shows.

“Hard Facts Update: Race and Ethnicity in the Nine-County Greater Rochester Area” is an update on the organizations’ 2017 report. The update offers sobering data of the deep disparities in the Rochester area.

Jennifer Leonard
Jennifer Leonard

“This updated report leaves no doubt that we need to change local practices that have systematically disadvantaged our neighbors of color,” said Jennifer Leonard, president & CEO of the Community Foundation. “Fortunately, the report does show some improvement in educational disparities, likely due to a renewed focus on school climate and racial equity in the Rochester city schools.”

Child poverty rates in the nine-county region demonstrate the stark differences among racial and ethnic groups, as well as when comparing the Rochester region with both New York state and the nation. For the nine-county region, African American children have a 49 percent poverty rate, while the rate for Latino children is 40 percent. The rate for both white and Asian children is 13 percent, according to the report.

One of the educational measurements in the report is Grade 3 reading level. The measure often is cited as a critical milestone in a child’s education. The observation is that if a child can “learn to read” by this point, he or she will be able to “read to learn” in later grades, according to the report. But just 27 percent of Latino students and one-quarter of African American students in the nine-county region achieve this milestone, compared with 52 percent of white students and 53 percent of Asian students.

Latino and African American students in the Rochester region lag behind students of the same groups statewide, and by a margin of 16 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Similar gaps exist in Grade 3 math proficiency as well.

Grade 8 English scores show an even greater disparity among racial and ethnic groups, the report shows. There is a 31 percentage point gap in the proficiency rate between African Americans and whites, while there is a 28 percentage point gap between whites and Latinos.

The report isn’t all doom and gloom. While graduation rates within the region exhibit drastic disparities, the gaps in graduation rates are somewhat less stark than those for education testing outcomes. With recent improvements in local graduation rates, the gap for African Americans and their statewide counterparts has narrowed significantly. There currently is no gap for Latinos.


The four-year graduation rate for Latinos in the Rochester region in 2019 was 75 percent, while for African Americans it was 72 percent. That compares with 91 percent for white students and 92 percent for Asian students.

Other important findings in “Hard Facts 2020” include:

• Compared with whites in the region, African Americans are almost 3 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to live in poverty, and earn incomes that are less than half of whites in the region.
• Compared with non-Latino whites, Latinos are 2.5 times as likely to be unemployed and 3 times as likely to experience poverty, while earning incomes that are only slightly higher than half (53 percent) those of Whites in the region.
• Compared with whites, African Americans are dramatically less likely to own homes (32 percent versus 73 percent); more likely to pay a higher percent of income for rent (44 percent compared with 30 percent); and, for those who do own homes, own a lower-valued residence (59 percent of average white-owned home values).
• For Latinos, the outcomes are similar: Homeownership is lower (35 percent compared with 73 percent); rent burdens are higher (44 percent of income versus 30 percent); and home values are lower (68 percent of white homeowners).


Corroborating these findings, a recent study by Diversity Data Kids found income disparities between African Americans and Latinos and whites in Monroe County to be the fifth highest in the U.S. out of more than 31,000 counties.

“Economic disparities within our region and in comparison to the nation and state are extraordinary,” the report states. “These disparities — way out-of-line with the national and statewide experience — reflect a type of racism that must be stopped if our region is to prosper.”

ACT Rochester and the Community Foundation offer a number of suggestions to begin to turn things around:

• Conduct community-wide conversations about race, racism and inequality.
• Develop goals and a plan to reduce the region’s exceptional concentration of poverty, specifically in the city of Rochester. There are three broad strategies to achieve this: reduce poverty, attract more people of means into the city and expand housing opportunities outside of the city for people in poverty.
• Take immediate actions to lessen the concentration of student poverty.
• Work to reverse the de-concentration of employment. For several decades, the city of Rochester was able to hold onto its employment base even as the population declined. But with the loss of manufacturing, with its anchoring brick and mortar plants, jobs have left the city.
• Plan to reduce residential segregation. A 2012 study found that segregation in our area recorded the Rochester metro area as having the 5th highest degree of segregation among cities of Rochester’s size. Rochester’s rating placed it 31 percent higher than the mid-point of comparably sized cities.

The report’s authors suggest that individuals learn, engage, advocate and ask the hard questions that address racism and segregation in the community.

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RMAPI releases 2020 policy priorities

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative on Thursday announced its policy priorities for 2020, with actions aimed specifically at the root causes of poverty.

“Implementing policies that address inequality and promote self-sufficiency is a key part of creating the systemic changes that will bring meaningful poverty reduction to our region,” said Jerome Underwood and Daan Braveman, RMAPI steering committee co-chairmen. “We plan to continue working with our partners in Rochester and harnessing the voice of community members, especially those affected by poverty, to put these priorities into action in the coming year.

RMAPI this year will prioritize:

  • Funding to improve child care access and quality;
  • Strengthen working family tax credits;
  • Support parole reform through the Less is More Act;
  • Increase funding for public transportation;
  • End driver’s license suspension for unpaid fees and fines; and
  • Improve housing access.

RMAPI plans to call on state officials to better support low-income families, children and young adults through expanded and strengthened refundable tax credits for working families. The proposed tax credits would remove the phase-in of the Empire State Child Credit in order to make it available to the state’s poorest kids and families.

It also will establish a $1,000 young child credit and expand the existing credit to $500 for children 4 and older. The tax credit would increase and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which encourages work and lessens the “benefits cliff” by increasing the state’s match to 45 percent and extends the credit to childless young workers.

RMAPI officials noted that nationwide, one-third of low-income families who pay for child care are pushed into poverty by those expenses. Fewer than 20 percent of low-income New York families eligible for child care subsidies are receiving them.

A lack of access to child care causes many parents, overwhelmingly women, to drop out of the workforce for long periods of time, pushing them into poverty, RMAPI officials said.

RMAPI supports efforts to reform the state’s parole structure and move away from “a system that reincarcerates people for technical violations like missing an appointment with a parole officer, being late for curfew or testing positive for alcohol.

The Less is More Act would:

  • Provide earned time credits. People under community supervision would be eligible to earn a 30-day “earned time credits” reduction in their community supervision period for every 30-day period in which they do not violate a condition of supervision.
  • Bolster due process by giving those under community supervision a hearing in a local criminal court before they are detained and provide for speedy hearings.
  • Restrict the use of incarceration for technical violations. Incarceration would be eliminated as a sanction for most technical violations. Certain technical violations could still result in jail time, but it would be capped at a maximum of 30 days.

RMAPI noted that statewide there are nearly 35,000 people under active parole supervision who could see their efforts to rejoin the workforce and reintegrate into their families and communities disrupted because of a “technical violation.”

RMAPI supports an increase in state funding for Regional Transit Service to implement its Reimagine RTS. The redesigned public transportation system will provide more choices and greater access to people across Monroe County, officials said.

A 10 percent increase in statewide mass transit operating assistance would better meet the growing needs of customers, RMAPI said. Officials noted that in Monroe County, the funding need for projects identified as a priority is $59.3 million and would be used to build a new paratransit facility and expand usage of electric buses.

RMAPI is calling on the state Legislature to sign the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act.

Under the current law, thousands of New Yorkers have driver’s licenses suspended every year because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees, officials said. Between January 2016 and April 2018, the state issued close to 1.7 million driver’s license suspensions for traffic debt. These license suspensions are nine times higher in the state’s 10 poorest communities compared to the 10 wealthiest, according to RMAPI.

The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act would:

  • End driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic tickets and for not appearing at a traffic hearing;
  • Reinstate all driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay or appear; and
  • Make affordable payment plans available for traffic debt.

RMAPI will support the work of local advocates to support efforts to increase access to housing. This will include enforcing a ban on source of income discrimination, building on RMAPI’s past efforts to end landlord discrimination against Section 8 housing vouchers.

RMAPI supports establishing a county-wide pilot project to provide legal information and assistance in housing matters, as well as preserving resources for those experiencing a housing crisis.

“I am proud to partner with RMAPI on their 2020 policy agenda to directly address many of the root causes of poverty,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, in a statement. “As someone who grew up in poverty, I watched my mother and father struggle to make ends meet for myself and my brothers and sisters. For families in poverty across Monroe County, they experience numerous barriers related to affordable and accessible childcare, public transit and housing.”

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ACT Rochester Report Card: Improvement needed in key areas

The City of Rochester and the nine-county Finger Lakes region continue to underperform in several key areas related to the economy, education, health and public safety, and one element that has beleaguered Rochester for some time has not improved: child poverty.

ACT Rochester on Thursday presented to a standing-room-only crowd its Eighth Annual Report Card, held at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Community members, business leaders and elected officials learned that for the first time since the Report Card began, the region performed worse than New York State as a whole in half of the areas measured.

From 2012 through 2016, one-third of people in the City of Rochester lived in poverty, 7 percentage points higher than in 2000, and higher than the state rate of 15 percent. At 50 percent, Rochester had a higher child poverty rate than the state’s 22 percent rate, as well as other cities in the region. Both poverty and child poverty rates in Rochester had large disparities in terms of race and ethnicity, with people of color living in poverty at higher rates than whites, according to the Report Card.

Like the other cities in the region—Batavia, Geneva and Canandaigua—Rochester had a decline in median household income from 2000 to 2012-2017 at a greater rate than the state as a whole. Its level in 2012-2016 was $31,700, the lowest of the four cities. There were pronounced disparities in median household income between black or African American and white households.

The majority of data for ACT Rochester indicators is sourced from the U.S. Census. ACT Executive Director Ann Johnson reminded the audience that data informs action.

Ann Johnson
Ann Johnson

“Where we have work to do, and all of us do, is in the role of action. Not just any action, but action that we measure how we’re going forward and look for results and impact. That’s an important part of where we need to go next, and ACT is actively involved in trying to push that agenda,” said Ann Johnson.

Some 47 percent of Rochester households were in 2012 through 2016 paying more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs—a much higher share than at the state or regional levels, 33 and 35 percent, respectively.

In 2017, the Rochester City School District spent $23,300 per student, below the state rate of $24,700, according to the report. Rochester’s spending level has increased by 39 percent from the $16,750 it spent in 2000, the smallest increase of the four cities in the region.

Last year, Rochester’s 3rd grade English proficiency rate, an important measure of early reading skills, was 17 percent, below all of the cities in the region and the state’s 51 percent. The rate increased by 11 percentage points from 2013 to 2018, the lowest improvement of any of the four cities.

Rochester’s rate of serious crimes was 471 per 10,000 residents in 2017, the report shows, the highest among other cities in the region and above the state’s rate of 182. However, this reflected a 39 percent decrease in the rate from 2000. Rochester’s rate of violent crimes increased 22 percent in the same time period.

“Data on their own are not where the power lies. They don’t make change on their own. They don’t contribute to change on their own,” said Center for Governmental Research Inc. President and CEO Joseph Stefko, who moderated Thursday’s event. “Much like the tape measure, the hammer and the pliers that are in a toolbox, data are potential instruments of change. To be effective, to be applied in ways that shape or reshape or build, tools, like data, require engagement. They require us as individuals, as organizations, as community groups to open up the lid, understand the power of what’s in the box and apply it in smart ways.”

ACT is an acronym for Achieving Community Targets, Johnson noted, and she said she learned earlier this week that the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council has set a target to move 20,000 people out of poverty in the nine-county region by 2025.

“We’ve been blessed in our community to have an effort of collective impact going on in multiple different arenas. That means people who sit at the table and all move toward mutual purpose and they use their resources to be able to deliver outputs, outcomes and impact,” Johnson said. “I think as we go forward what we’re going to need to do is look at what is that overall result that we want to achieve?”

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Rochester’s older population fastest growing statewide

With baby boomers reaching retirement age and people living longer than ever before, it’s no surprise the community is aging. But in the last decade, Rochester experienced the fastest growth in older adults of any major city in New York State, a recent report shows.

Supported by AARP and published by the Center for an Urban Future, “New York’s Older Adult Population is Booming Statewide” shows that the number of people aged 65 and older increased by 26 percent. In Rochester, however, that number increased by 36 percent.

Older adults now account for 12 percent of Rochester’s population, up from 9 percent 10 years ago.

“New York’s population is rapidly graying. In every corner of the state, older adults are driving most, if not all, of the growth,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, in a statement last month. “The governor and Legislature and local officials across the state should take note of these trends and make investing in older adult services a higher priority.”

The study, which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, showed that Monroe County had a similarly dramatic increase in its older adult population. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of residents aged 65 and older in the county increased by 13 percent, while the county’s overall population fell by 12 percent.

In 2017, Monroe County was home to 125,798 people aged 65 and older, up from 111,365 in 2007. Those 85 and older increased by 2 percent during the period.

At 31 percent, the study also shows that older adults in Rochester have the highest poverty rates of any city or county in the state. The Bronx’s older adult poverty rate was 28 percent. During the last decade, the number of older adults in poverty in Rochester increased by 38 percent, according to the report, from 5,639 in 2007 to 7,798 in 2017.

The age boom is occurring statewide, the report shows. New York’s 65 and older population increased by 647,000 during the decade, and there are now more older adults in New York than the entire population of 21 states. Those aged 64 and under statewide decreased by 95,375 between 2007 and 2017.

“These eye-popping numbers are a wake-up call to address the needs of our fast-aging population,” AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel said. “Our elected officials must acknowledge that older New Yorkers can’t keep paying ever-increasing utility bills and our unpaid family caregivers can’t keep helping our loved ones age in their own homes rather than in less desirable, costlier and taxpayer-funded nursing homes without more support.”

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HUD awards $10 million to area organizations to fight homelessness

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded nearly $10 million to dozens of Finger Lakes organizations to help fight homelessness.

person-homeless-povertyThe $9.96 million was allocated through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, which provides funding to nonprofits, as well as local and state governments, to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families and promote access to programs that encourage self-sufficiency among those experiencing homelessness.

“One homeless family is one too many, and we must do everything we can to help provide those truly in need with a place to live,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement. “By supporting affordable housing initiatives in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region and across New York State, and helping organizations work with homeless families and individuals to get them back on their feet, we can make a real dent in homelessness across the state. This is a sound investment in organizations in our community that are skilled at helping those in need.”

Organizations receiving funding include:

  • Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency / HMIS, Clifton Springs, $21,185
  • Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency / Wayne County Permanent Supportive Housing, Clifton Springs, $106,184
  • Lakeview Health Services / Lakeview SRO Tompkins, Geneva, $35,537
  • Geneva Housing Authority / Finger Lakes Regional Shelter Plus Care, Geneva, $37,983
  • Geneva Housing Authority / Finger Lakes Regional Shelter Plus Care II, Geneva, $78,584
  • Geneva Housing Authority / S+C for the Chronically Homeless II, Geneva, $13,781
  • Wayne County Action Program, Inc. / Success Center TH-RRH, Lyons, $48,123
  • Chances and Changes, Inc. / SHP Permanent Housing Livingston (2018), Mt. Morris, $60,290
  • Catholic Charities of Rochester dba Catholic Family Center / Consolidated Lafayette Housing Program, Rochester, $270,257
  • Coordinated Care Services, Inc. / Coordinated Entry, Rochester, $252,622
  • Delphi Drug and Alcohol Council Inc. / HomeSafeConsolidated, Rochester, $489,862
  • Person Centered Housing Options Inc. / PCHO Housing First, Rochester, $955,638
  • Person Centered Housing Options Inc. / PCHO RRH, Rochester, $128,173
  • Person Centered Housing Options Inc. / PCHO RRH II, Rochester, $472,901
  • Providence Housing Development Corporation / Providence PBV Permanent Housing, Rochester, $595,688
  • Providence Housing Development Corporation / Providence Shelter Plus Care, Rochester, $467,824
  • Providence Housing Development Corporation / Providence Supportive Suburban Housing Initiative, Rochester, $280,989
  • Providence Housing Development Corporation / Providence Veterans Permanent Housing Program, Rochester, $182,082
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/ Frederick Douglass Apartments PSH-PBRA #24, Rochester, $24,797
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/1630 Dewey Ave PSH-PBRA #23, Rochester, $245,915
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/JPC PSH-RA #18, Rochester, $135,209
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/Monroe County DHS PSH-RA #5, Rochester, $646,212
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/PCHO PSH-RA #27, Rochester, $196,406
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/Salvation Army Chronically Homeless PSH-RA #12, Rochester, $391,189
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/Son House PSH-PBRA #26, Rochester, $94,061
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/Strong Ties PSH-RA #8, Rochester, $168,448
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/VOA Family Housing Program PSH-RA #21, Rochester, $102,048
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/VOA PSH-RA #7, Rochester, $572,506
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/VOC PSH-RA #6, Rochester, $81,934
  • Rochester Housing Authority / RHA/Voter’s Block PSH-PBRA #20, Rochester, $78,247
  • Rochester/Monroe County Homeless Continuum of Care, Inc. / HMIS for RMCCoC, Rochester, $251,880
  • Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach, Inc. / SCPO TH/RRH, Rochester, $278,402
  • Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach, Inc. / Voter Block Community, Rochester, $41,327
  • The Center for Youth Services, Inc. / Parenting Teens, Rochester, $83,935
  • The Center for Youth Services, Inc. / Transition Age Youth Rapid Rehousing Project – Consolidated, Rochester, $255,581
  • The Center for Youth Services, Inc. / Transitional Living Program, Rochester, $129,288
  • Trillium Health, Inc. / Trillium Health Permanent Supportive Housing Renewal, Rochester, $146,556
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / VOAWNY Permanent Supportive Housing in Rochester, NY – Foundation House, Rochester, $256,325
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / VOAWNY’s Reentry Rapid Rehousing Program, Rochester, $277,458
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / Volunteers of America of WNY’s Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless Individuals (Pinnacle Heights), Rochester, $242,132
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / Volunteers of America of WNY’s Project ReDirect, Rochester, $169,752
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / Volunteers of America’s of WNY’s Permanent Supportive Housing, Rochester, $158,366
  • YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County / YWCA Family Rapid Re-Housing, Rochester, $118,008
  • The Housing Council / The Housing Council at PathStone GOW RRH 2018 Program, Rochester, $91,761
  • Volunteers of America of Western New York, Inc. / VOAWNY PSH for Chronically Homeless Individuals and Families in Binghamton, Rochester, $224,461

“No family should ever be without a place to call home. This federal investment will support organizations throughout the Rochester-Finger Lakes region that provide critical services to New Yorkers who are facing homelessness,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “Access to safe and reliable housing is absolutely essential for the health of our communities, and I will continue to fight to ensure communities have the resources they need to combat homelessness.”

HUD’s Continuum of Care program promotes community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; provides funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing trauma; promotes access to mainstream programs; and optimizes self-sufficiency among those experiencing homelessness.

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Arena event Thursday will help homeless

Project Homeless Connect Rochester was started in 2009. This year's event will take place Sept. 13. (photo provided)
Project Homeless Connect Rochester was started in 2009. This year’s event will take place Sept. 13. (Photo provided)

The Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial will again be the site for the ninth annual Project Homeless Connect Rochester, an event that serves as a one-stop shop to bring tools and services to the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless.

Nearly 100 organizations will be on hand at the all-day event Thursday.

Project Homeless Connect Rochester helps unite people with needed services from the Monroe County Department of Human Services, the Monroe County Clerk’s Auto License Bureau, the Social Security Administration and Monroe County Health Department.

A number of medical plan agencies will be on hand, as will providers of dental care, cancer services and mammograms, among others. Legal and mental health volunteers will be available, as well as organizations that serve veterans. Several housing and shelter agencies will be on hand, including Rochester Housing Authority, Open Door Mission and the Housing Council at PathStone Inc.

“A major goal for this event is to reduce barriers for individuals to access necessary services. Having numerous agencies under one roof, participants are able to complete many steps toward self-sufficiency, which would otherwise take weeks to accomplish,” said Kathryn Bryan, PathStone Corp.’s senior vice president of property management. “This event is a necessity in the Rochester area and at the end of the day everyone leaves the event feeling a sense of accomplishment; this goes for participants, service providers, volunteers and organizers.”

Since its 2009 inaugural event, some 1,200 volunteers have donated their time and effort to put Project Homeless Connect Rochester together. Last year’s event helped more than 700 individuals seek services.

The homeless struggle daily with the repercussions of unmet basic human needs for safety, food, stability and shelter, event organizers say. On any given night in Rochester and Monroe County, hundreds of people are living either on the streets or in temporary shelter.

An entrance survey conducted at the 2017 event found that the average age of participants was 44, with ages ranging from 15 to 85. Men accounted for roughly 57 percent of participants and nearly 55 percent of participants were African-American.

Roughly one-half of Project Homeless Connect Rochester participants had not slept in their own home the previous night; 7 percent had slept outside. About half of those who slept in their own homes face the threat of eviction within three weeks.

Among PHCR’s goals are to improve the system of care by creating opportunities for collaboration and sharing of best practices among the area’s homeless provider community. PHCR also strives to leverage private, corporate and foundation money and in-kind support to augment city efforts to increase housing options and build service capacity for homeless Rochesterians.

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PepsiCo and Feed the Children partner to feed 800 local families

Volunteers braved the rain last week to distribute food to 800 needy families in Rochester. (photo provided)
Volunteers braved the rain last week to distribute food to 800 needy families in Rochester. (Photo provided)

A partnership between PepsiCo and Feed the Children will help supplement meals for 800 Rochester families in need.

Now in its fourth year, the PepsiCo and Feed the Children partnership is part of a larger initiative between the two organizations to help feed communities in cities throughout the U.S. In Rochester, more than 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

“We love serving the Rochester community and are grateful for the opportunity to give back to our community,” said Bonnie Keith, who serves as PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division Mid-Atlantic region key account manager. “At Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, we believe in engaging our associates in community projects and initiatives that make a positive difference by supporting our local community where we live and work.”

The families in Rochester were identified and preselected by Catholic Family Center, a nonprofit that helps elevate the local community by enabling independence, empowering the vulnerable and strengthening individuals and families.

“We recognize hunger can’t be fought alone, but by working together we can provide food and essentials to millions of children and families who live in poverty,” Feed the Children President and CEO Travis Arnold said in a statement. “Hope for a better future is made possible thanks to our many volunteers, donors and partners.”

Volunteers helped assist and distribute donated food to 800 families in Rochester at the fourth annual Feed the Hungry event. (photo provided)
Volunteers helped distribute donated food to 800 families in Rochester at the fourth annual Feed the Hungry event. (Photo provided)

This year’s event kicked off Aug. 8, when volunteers from PepsiCo, Tops Friendly Markets, Catholic Family Center, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and Feed the Children served families and assisted with distribution of food. SwiftLift Inc. provided equipment and drivers to unload nearly 100 pallets of food and supplies.

“Tops is committed to eradicating hunger in the communities we serve,” said Tops Chairman and CEO Frank Curci. “We’re thrilled to partner with our friends at PepsiCo and Feed the Children on this initiative. The way we see it, we’re simply neighbors helping neighbors.”

Each recipient received a 25-pound box of nonperishable food items, a 15-pound box of personal-care items, a box of Avon products, PepsiCo beverages and Frito-Lay Better-For-You variety packs, Quaker breakfast foods and Life cereal, as well as fresh produce and non-perishable food items provided by Tops.

“Catholic Family Center is grateful to be working once again with PepsiCo, Feed the Children and our neighbors at Tops Markets,” CFC CEO Marlene Bessette said. “Together, these partners are truly providing vital nourishment for both body and mind to some of our city’s most vulnerable families and children.”

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Programs to reduce poverty get $1M in state funding

Three Rochester-area poverty-reduction programs will receive nearly $1 million in state funding through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI).

“Through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, we are empowering communities to connect people with opportunities that help move them on a path out of poverty toward economic independence,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release Monday. “I look forward to these programs delivering results and commend Rochester for (its) efforts to get to this point.”

The three poverty-reduction programs approved for funding in Rochester include:

  • Young Adult Manufacturing Training Employment Program—$750,000 to be used to help adults acquire the skills to maintain a living wage job in the manufacturing industry. The program will teach basic work habits and social skills required to work in manufacturing. The pilot will train and employ up to 200 people, while also serving as a model for other employers to emulate in their fields.
  • Rochester Rehabilitation and Action for a Better Community—$75,000 each to create a virtual map showing how individuals progress through agencies delivering services, finding opportunities for greater efficiency, ways agencies can collaborate and areas where individuals may need more support.
  • St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center—$76,000 to expand the organization’s Structural Racism Initiative, with a goal of training 200 individuals from 29 organizations. The program helps local agencies and businesses better understand the issue and develop effective ways to combat it within their own organizations.

“Strengthening our community through education and job-readiness is a long-term solution to helping individuals and families escape poverty,” said Sen. Rich Funke, R-Fairport. “We have companies that want to be here, and I continually hear from employers that they need more trained employees. Hopefully these efforts will help create that connection.”

The governor’s office announced ESPRI in 2016 and 16 communities statewide formed local task forces to oversee efforts and administer state funding. The state modeled ESPRI after the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, part of a broad coalition of state and local government, businesses and nonprofit representatives working together to redesign and coordinate efforts to address extreme poverty here, officials said.

“Through continued partnership and collaboration, the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative is supporting the development and implementation of community-driven plans that are confronting head-on the specific challenges facing families and individuals living in poverty,” Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said. “I am grateful to Gov. Cuomo for delivering funds that will enable these efforts to continue serving and uplifting those in our community who are most in need.”

The fund approval will allow RMAPI to continue its efforts to create systemic change that addresses the root causes of poverty, RMAPI Executive Director Leonard Brock said.

“In the coming year, these efforts will bring higher earnings and increased participation in the labor force, increased effectiveness of benefits, increased accessibility of basic needs, increased funding alignment around the community’s common poverty-reduction agenda and decision-making among key stakeholders that is community and data driving,” Brock said.

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Transportation system called inadequate for low-income workers

bus-public-transportation-seats-373978-1A new transportation and poverty report commissioned by a number of area organizations involved in Rochester’s anti-poverty initiative suggests that the city’s transportation system reinforces the disparities that already exist in the community, rather than helping to reduce them.

Transportation and Poverty in Monroe County: How Land Use, Job Locations and Commuting Options Affect Access to Jobs found that changing patterns of residential settlement and location of jobs have made it increasingly difficult for people, especially low-income people, to access employment.

“This report makes it clear that transportation is a structural barrier that forces people living in poverty into impossible choices, and that the situation has been exacerbated by increased decentralization of jobs over time,” said Reconnect Rochester President Mike Governale. “The transportation needs of our most vulnerable workers should not be an afterthought in land use management and regional economic policy decision making.”

The report’s findings, he said, should be a call to action to improve the coordination between public and private dollars invested in transportation, economic development and anti-poverty efforts.

The report, prepared by the Center for Governmental Research Inc., notes that in 1910 more than three-quarters of Monroe County’s population lived within the city limits. A century later, that had dropped to just one-quarter. And from 2002 to 2015, the share of county jobs located in the suburbs grew, while the share in the city declined.

The report notes that while the overall number of jobs declined slightly, the changes in income levels of the jobs available have been more dramatic. From 2002 to 2015, Rochester saw a 29 percent decline in low-income jobs and a 32 percent decline in its mid-income jobs.

While low-income jobs are concentrated in a few tracts in the city and in Henrietta, the workers who work those jobs often commute from elsewhere in the county, the report notes. Low-income workers’ residences are much more widely scattered across the county than the locations of their jobs, which makes getting to those jobs more difficult.

The report concludes that “the state of the transportation options in Monroe County and Rochester pose an equity issue for the community, both in terms of race and income. Drivers (who are whiter and wealthier than transit riders) face easy commutes and a wide access to jobs. Those who ride the bus face very long commutes and limited access to jobs.”

The report was commissioned by Reconnect Rochester, in partnership with the city of Rochester, Connected Communities Inc., ESL Charitable Foundation, Genesee Transportation Council (GTC), Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), the Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. ESL Charitable Foundation, United Way and CGR funded the project.

The report will be used to inform the strategy and focus of the RMAPI transportation policy work group, which will work to translate the findings into policy recommendations and action.

“Funding constraints limit public transit’s ability to meet the changing needs of the community and customers we serve,” RGRTA CEO Bill Carpenter said. “This report shows the impact of limited funding on access to jobs, education and health care and how barriers to transportation reduce quality of life in our community.”

GTC Executive Director James Stack noted that the organization’s long range transportation plan supports development that considers and integrates transportation needs.

“This report highlights the need for employers to consider the transportation options that potential employees can afford on the anticipated wages,” Stack said. “Employers should consider the benefits of reduced turnover that locating near reliable transportation can provide.”

The full report can be read here.

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