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Overhaul coming for 19th Ward apartments 

The residents of 447 Thurston Road and 967 Chili Avenue spent the better part of last year trying to get their landlord, Thurston Road Realty, to fix a long list of problems in their buildings: mold, electrical issues, sewage backups, broken doors, inadequate heat, and more.

Home Leasing is wrapping up its purchase of the troubled properties from Thurston Road Realty. The company's website says both buildings are "extremely distressed" and "in substantial disrepair." But Home Leasing plans to renovate the "whole guts" of the building, says Home Leasing's development manager, Adam Driscoll.

As part of the $10 million project, Home Leasing will put new roofs on the buildings and remove asbestos. It'll install new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, as well as new appliances, light fixtures, kitchens, and bathrooms.

"Anything you can think of, basically," Driscoll says.

And the company plans to do all of this without permanently displacing residents or raising rents, Driscoll says. The residents currently pay for their own utilities, but Home Leasing plans to roll a utility charge into the rents instead. The rents will range from $477 to $832 a month, according to legislation before City Council that would authorize a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between the city and the developer.

The project will be funded through a grant from New York Homes and Community Renewal – a state housing agency – and financing from the nonprofit Community Preservation Corporation.

Residents of the two buildings will be temporarily relocated during construction; Driscoll says Home Leasing officials are working with the residents on those plans. The company hopes to start construction in mid to late April, and since it'll be able to have workers on every floor at the same time, it expects the renovations to take about eight months, Driscoll says.

Together, the Thurston Road and Chili Avenue buildings have 53 one-bedroom apartments and 10 studio apartments. The company's website says approximately 30 are currently occupied.

Of the newly-renovated apartments, 20 will be dedicated to permanent supportive housing for people who were incarcerated and who have been homeless or have a history of substance abuse, says the company's website. Home Leasing is working with Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach, which has received funding to provide rental subsidies and support services for those residents.

Home Leasing is also in the process of buying 440 Thurston Road, even though the building on it burned down this past December. It's also buying a neighboring two-unit house, and it plans to develop the properties in the future, Driscoll says.

Thurston Road Realty is a real estate partnership that was controlled by New York City investor Peter Hungerford, until his partner forced him out. The properties had racked up dozens of property code violations, and the City of Rochester sued Thurston Road Realty in an attempt to compel repairs. The case is ongoing.

Local housing activists rallied behind residents of the Thurston Road Realty properties and argued that their struggles were exactly why state lawmakers should create new housing courts for Rochester and other New York cities. Housing courts already exist in New York City and Buffalo, and they give renters a way to get legal orders for landlords to make health- and safety-related repairs. The courts also handle eviction cases.

Last year, Assembly member Harry Bronson and Senator Joe Robach introduced legislation to create a City of Rochester housing court, but it never received a vote. Bronson reintroduced his bill this session.

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