by DARIEN LAMEN
(WXIR-Rochester) A coalition of local tenant, homeless, and advocacy groups is calling on officials to use extraordinary emergency powers to protect Rochester's unhoused and housing-insecure residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an open letter Monday, the coalition praised Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren for providing some forms of emergency relief to residents--which include postponing the deadline for property tax and utilities payments, suspending utility service shut-offs, as well as waiving parking fees in Rochester.
But the coalition says leaders need to go much further to protect the city's unhoused residents, and by extension, everyone else.
"The COVID-19 Crisis has exposed the reality that if we don’t properly take care of all people then we will all be put at a dramatically increased risk of sickness and possibly death," the coalition says.
Specifically, the coalition is calling on Monroe County Executive Adam Bello to request emergency assistance from New York State in order to move people out of shelters and into housing.
"Almost all homeless shelters are in direct violation of the President’s recommendations of avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people," the coalition writes, adding that properly isolating an infected person according to the County Health Department's guidelines is "impossible in homeless shelters."
The letter also calls on Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren to reclaim vacant housing units and make them available to house those living in shelters. The coalition argues that the intervention is warranted on the grounds that many landlords have allegedly stopped showing and renting vacant apartments.
"Owning rental property is a privilege not a right. Every individual’s right to safe housing has never been more important than it is currently," the letter says.
The coalition also calls on local officials to order the suspension of rent collection and rent debt during the crisis, noting that this sort of relief has already been granted to homeowners through the suspension of mortgage and property tax payments.
"Housing is health care," the letter reads. "Keeping people in crowded homeless shelters will spread COVID-19 and lead to more deaths."
The open letter is signed by the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester, the Rochester Homeless Union, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, House of Mercy, VOCAL-NY - Rochester Chapter and Citizen Action of NY - Rochester Chapter.
DARIEN LAMEN is news producer/director for WXIR Community Radio. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org