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Improving neighborhoods 

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards wants to keep the city's Focused Investment program operating in the same four neighborhoods for at least two more years, saying the program needs more time to work.

The city started Focused Investment about four years ago, singling out four challenged neighborhoods for intense investment of time and resources: Marketview Heights in the northeast, Beechwood in the southeast, Dewey-Driving Park in the northwest, and Jefferson Avenue in the southwest. Federal grant money and other resources have been used to rehab homes, for demolition, and many other efforts.

The goal was to see marked improvement in the selected neighborhoods within three to five years. But Richards now says that, despite many gains, it will take longer than expected for the city to realize its objectives. Richards called for the extension following the release of a progress report on the FIS program, put together by the city's Department of Business and Housing Development.

The report says that although the overall health of the neighborhoods seems to be improving, "the distressed nature of these neighborhoods makes it difficult to achieve results quickly."

Through FIS, the report says: rehabs had been completed or are under way at 137 residential and 18 commercial properties, and a total of 44 vacant structures have been or are going to be demolished.

But the neighborhoods continue to suffer from lower property assessments, higher crime rates, higher rental rates, and higher vacancy rates.

City Council President Lovely Warren, who is running for mayor this year, says she supports FIS, but a critical component is missing. The program doesn't include individualized support for people living in the FIS neighborhoods, such as connecting them to needed services.

"We were supposed to do more," Warren says. "When you're talking about making the kind of investment we've made in these FIS neighborhoods, you have to help people sustain it. You can't do the improvement and walk away and think that things in the neighborhood are going to change."

City spokesperson Gary Walker says City Council has approved a pilot community building program for Beechwood, and that programs are planned for the other three neighborhoods, as well.

"When you're talking about making the kind of investment we've made in these FIS neighborhoods, you have to help people sustain it. You can't do the improvement and walk away and think that things in the neighborhood are going to change." Lovely Warren

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