Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”) Advances Neighborhood Revitalization and Helps City of Syracuse Address Housing Challenges

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Letitia James today announced a $965,000 grant for the City of Syracuse as part of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement (“Cities RISE”) program. The program provides municipalities the funding to launch innovative programs related to housing and strategic code enforcement. Cities RISE aims to innovatively address and transform blighted, vacant, or poorly maintained problem properties through the use of housing and community data from various state agencies.

The City of Syracuse will use the grant to establish a community ambassador program that pays and trains residents to serve in a leadership capacity in their neighborhoods for code enforcement and housing related issues. The city will also pioneer a student legal partnership with Syracuse University to increase the capacity of code enforcement to more efficiently resolve cases.

“In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, families throughout the Syreacuse region are continuing to struggle to find quality, affordable housing options,” said Attorney General James. “Cities RISE is an important program that allows cities across New York to better address code enforcement policies in an effort to meet the unique needs of their communities. Using the funds secured from settlements with banks, my office will continue to work with municipalities to combat New York’s ongoing housing crisis.”

Launched in April 2017, Cities RISE advances the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s comprehensive strategy for helping New York families and communities rebuild from the housing crisis. In the first phase of the program, 16 municipalities received a two-year subscription to a data platform designed to integrate and analyze data such as code enforcement records, tax liens, and fire and police data to innovatively address and transform blighted, vacant, or poorly maintained problem properties.

Ten of the original 16 grantees were selected for phase two of the program, which began in November 2018. Phase two of the program provided cities with technical assistance to analyze city data as well as assisted the cities with community engagement to develop program ideas for their grant application. Over the last year, these municipalities have worked with Cities RISE program partners to improve their code enforcement strategies and develop new strategic programs. The cities received expert support from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Tolemi, a social enterprise that created the BuildingBlocks platform used by all Cities RISE participants. Harvard and Tolemi helped municipalities leverage data and evidence in operational work and policy-making. Additionally, last May, the mayors of the municipalities attended an Executive Education Program at Harvard. They also worked with Hester Street, an urban planning, design, and development nonprofit to develop and launch a comprehensive community engagement process.

In phase three of the program, 10 cities, including the City of Syracuse, were able to apply for a grant of up to $1 million to implement innovative and strategic programs related to code enforcement.

“Our neighborhoods in Syracuse have benefited greatly from Cities RISE funding,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “The continued support from Attorney General James’ office will create even more opportunities for us to invest in quality housing options for residents, clean up blighted areas, and energize our resurgent neighborhoods block by block.”

“Community Revitalization is one of our major focuses in the City of Syracuse,” said Syracuse City Council President Helen Hudson. “Thank you, Attorney General James; this opportunity could not have come at a better time for the City of Syracuse and its residents. It is working together, with all levels of government, that ensures change in cities and communities that have yet to recover from the economic downturn.”

“Blight has been a significant destabilizing force for our neighborhoods in Syracuse,” said Syracuse Common Councilor At-Large Michael Greene. “We thank the Attorney General for these resources as they will be critical as the city focuses on strategically addressing improved Code Enforcement.”

“We appreciate the support of Attorney General James through her Cities RISE initiative,” said Syracuse Common Councilor At-Large President and Pro-Tem Khalid Bey. “Many Syracuse residents have long suffered sub-par living conditions due to the fairly recent housing crisis and negligent landlords. The Attorney General’s contribution will go a long way in our effort to improve housing throughout the City of Syracuse.”

“Quality housing is a pressing need in Syracuse, we appreciate partners who share this concern and continue to look for tangible solutions with us,” said Syracuse 3rd District Common Councilor Chol Majok.

“When we hear from our constituents, blight and housing concerns are always up there at the top of the list,” said Syracuse 5th District Common Councilor Joe Driscoll. “Often, when struggling for better enforcement, we find that many of the gaps are in data collection and administrative infrastructure. I’m very grateful to Attorney General James for ensuring we have more resources to not only work harder, but smarter.”

Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise), a national community development intermediary that specializes in affordable housing, is overseeing the initiative.

“Enterprise is excited to support this final step in Cities RISE — the culmination of several years of hard work by the government and community leaders from participating municipalities to develop equitable, strategic code enforcement initiatives,” said Judi Kende, Vice President and Market Leader, Enterprise Community Partners. “Enterprise is proud to partner with Attorney General James to give communities across the state the unique opportunity to improve the lives of local residents.”

“We are excited to see these ten grantees leverage data through the BuildingBlocks platform to improve housing code compliance, facilitate cross-agency collaboration, and launch innovative neighborhood revitalization strategies,” said Andrew Kieve, CEO and Co-Founder of Tolemi.

“Cities RISE demonstrates the power and potential of community-led problem solving,” said Nisha Baliga, Co-Executive Director of Hester Street. “Hester Street was thrilled to support all ten municipalities in engaging residents, neighborhood leaders, and CBOs most impacted by code enforcement actions in the process of co-creating proactive and equitable code enforcement solutions. We’re excited about what this kind of participatory policy making can mean for the future of equitable code enforcement everywhere, and commend the Attorney General’s office for supporting this community-driven process.”

“It has been a great honor for us to support mayors and their teams in making their governments more effective, efficient, and equitable through innovation,” said Professor Jorrit de Jong, Faculty Director of Ash Center’s Government Innovations Program. “The Cities RISE program has been a superb platform to help cities build the capabilities to tackle challenges around vacant, abandoned, and distressed properties. We are grateful to New York Attorney General James for the opportunity to work with ten cities on making positive change in their communities.”

“The Center for Court Innovation is excited to work with the City of Syracuse and the Attorney General’s Office to implement creative strategies to improve housing for our community,” said Leah Russell, Peacemaking Project Coordinator at the Center for Court Innovation. “The Peacemaking Project strives for a process that amplifies community voices in order to develop solutions that are grounded in the perspectives and experiences of those most directly impacted by the issues. The Cities RISE grant will allow us to move forward with innovative solutions in partnership with city residents.”