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City of Rochester

A Rochester housing project that made the Coburn-McCain list of bad stimulus projects is expanding.

According to legislation submitted to City Council, El Camino Estates will enter its second phase. The second phase looks very much like the first.

Rochester Cornerstone Group and Ibero American Development Corporation plan to build 25 homes in the Conkey Avenue neighborhood for $6.3 million. That’s about $250,000 per home in an impoverished neighborhood where the median home price is less than $50,000.

These aren’t palatial homes for the money. They’re modest three and four bedroom houses with less than 2,000 square feet of space. The houses will initially be for rent and offered for sale after 15 years.

As in the first phase, the developers get a $800,000 fee.

The project is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. The city is proposing a payment in lieu of taxes. El Camino Estates is relying on a $1.2 million state grant and a city loan.

The developers have explained the project costs so much because of strict regulations surrounding government grants, including labor agreements and environmental standards.

Of course, this project is not just about dollars and cents. It’s about improving a neighborhood and providing safe, affordable housing to low-income residents. No one is going to build houses on Conkey Avenue without subsidies.

I’d like to see a long term study on El Camino’s impact in that census tract and the broader neighborhood. Has crime been reduced? Have neighboring property values increased? Has the population of the neighborhood rebounded? Fifty new houses may provide the critical mass needed to help the area turn the corner, but we shouldn’t make assumptions when the costs are so high.