10 Cities and Towns awarded “Cities RISE” grant awards

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Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced the winners of the second phase of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”) grant awards.

The initiative completes a more than $11 million investment over two years for neighborhood revitalization in cities and towns across New York State. Phase One, announced in June 2017, granted cities and towns a two-year subscription to a data platform designed to integrate and analyze data to strategically address blighted, vacant, or poorly maintained problem properties.

Today’s new round of awards will provide municipalities with new resources and training to leverage their data into improved code enforcement practices and policy changes, and an opportunity to apply for innovation grants of up to $1 million to implement these strategies.

Cities RISE Phase Two awardees include the cities of Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, White Plains, Elmira, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Rochester, and Syracuse.

“The Cities RISE program is helping communities address and transform the vacant, blighted properties that became all too prevalent following the housing crisis,” Attorney General Underwood said in a press release Friday.

As a result of the funding secured by my office’s settlements with the big banks, we’ve been able to invest in cities and towns across New York – and provide tools to rebuild and revitalize our neighborhoods.” 

Launched in 2017, Cities RISE advances the Office of the Attorney General’s comprehensive strategy for helping New York families and communities continue to rebuild from the housing crisis. The original grantees of Phase One received a two-year subscription to a data platform designed to integrate and analyze data such as code enforcement records, tax liens, fire and police data to address and transform blighted, vacant, or poorly maintained problem properties. Phase Two of the program will continue to advance each municipality’s code enforcement initiatives through improved use of data and technologies, resources to leverage data into operations and policy changes, and support to help engage their communities in the process.

Those who have been awarded will receive technical support from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Tolemi – a social enterprise that created the Building Blocks platform used by all Cities RISE participants. Harvard and Tolemi will work together to provide municipalities with advice and training on how to leverage their data and evidence into operations and policy changes. City leaders, including mayors and supervisors, will participate in Harvard’s Executive Education Program in the summer of 2019 to discuss key problems in their municipalities, learn from each other’s plans to confront these challenges, and work towards developing new strategies and practices based on their own data-driven knowledge and community engagement process.

Participating municipalities will also work closely with the Hester Street Collaberative, which  is an urban planning, design, and development nonprofit. Hester Street will advise and provide training to each municipality in developing a feasible and effective community engagement process, including convening an advisory board of local stakeholders and hosting large-scale public meetings. The engagement process will allow municipalities to gain a better understanding of what is occurring on the ground and solicit input on what programs or operational changes will best help the community.

During the course of the program, the 10 participating cities and towns will utilize knowledge gained from the data analysis, information gained from the Hester Street community engagement process, and technical support from Harvard and Tolemi to develop new and creative code enforcement strategies. In the summer of 2019, the participants will be eligible for innovation grants of up to $1 million to implement these strategic and equitable code enforcement practices.  

Cities RISE is one component of the New York Attorney General’s strategy to utilize funds resulting from settlements with large financial institutions to address continuing problems in New York communities as a result of the collapse of the housing market. Since 2012, the Attorney General’s Office has obtained more than $5 billion in settlement funds for New York State. With these funds, the office has supported several initiatives to address vacant properties and blight which continue to plague communities across New York State.

Over the last five years, the Attorney General’s Office has:

Allocated more than $50 million toward land banks—local, nonprofit entities that purchase and rehabilitate abandoned properties. To date, these land banks have reclaimed nearly 2,000 properties from abandonment and renatured over 700 properties to productive use. 

Launched Neighbors for Neighborhoods, a $4 million pilot program that enables land banks to provide subsidies for local community members to take over individual, abandoned properties and convert them into long-term affordable rental units. 

“I would like to thank the Attorney General for the opportunity to participate in the second phase of the Cities RISE program,” said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach. “This program has helped us address the issue of vacant and zombie properties, giving us data gathering tools to identify troubled properties and assist at-risk homeowners. We look forward to continuing to work with the AG’s office on this important initiative.”

“Thanks to the initial round of funding provided through Cities RISE the City of Niagara Falls has made significant headway in combating neighborhood blight through the collaborative use of real-time data,” said City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. 

“Phase One of the Cities RISE program enabled us to aggregate data on housing and properties in the city, which was previously segmented across departments. It resulted in a more comprehensive view that allowed us to focus our efforts on the neighborhoods that need it the most and be more proactive in the process,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “We look forward to upgrading these supporting systems and technology in Phase Two and we thank the Attorney General’s office for the continued funding that makes this work possible.”

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