Tenants spent months fighting for better conditions at their Thurston Road building. It just got a massive face lift from Home Leasing
After a year of renovations, Barbara Rivera is moving back into the Apartments at Thurston Village Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
A year and a half ago, Rochester tenant Barbara Rivera was about to be evicted from her apartment in a derelict building in the 19th Ward neighborhood.
She and a number of other tenants, with the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester supporting them, had stopped paying their rent as part of a bid to push the landlord to fix the 48-unit building at 447 Thurston Road, now called the Apartments at Thurston Village.
It was falling apart around them and had already been hit with multiple code violations.
Leaky ceilings and corroded pipes brought sewage into some apartment units.
Mice and roaches infested the building. Part of Rivera’s bathroom ceiling collapsed while she was bathing her 6-month-old daughter.
Finally, after protesting for months, the tenants got some action last winter.
The owner sold the building to residential real estate firm Home Leasing, which promptly moved all the tenants to temporary living situations in order to renovate the building, top to bottom.
The building was "an extreme case of really bad conditions," said Bret Garwood, CEO of Home Leasing, adding that the project received support from the City of Rochester and New York state's Division of Homes and Community Renewal. The total cost of the project, plus the renovation of another residential building on Chili Avenue, was $11 million.
"We hope that we can be part of a solution of dealing with properties like this, and keeping them high quality," Garwood said.
What has changed at Thurston Road building
Last week, Rivera opened the door to her new apartment in the same building, an unrecognizable space from what it was over a year ago.
The appliances, windows, floors and security systems have all been updated, with a laundry room and leasing office added in the basement.
“This is the type of housing quality that every tenant should experience. I can already feel the changes ... even in the air quality. I can breathe,” Rivera said.
She wiped away tears as she recalled the conditions she used to live in, and the effort and personal risk it took to fight for change amid eviction threats and the dismissal of her complaints.
But the outcome shows it was all worth it, Rivera said.
“It’s so important because no one should live the way that we did,” she said. “No one should be afraid to speak up because they’re afraid to be evicted.”
The fact that tenants in the building were both advocating for themselves and organizing as a group helped Home Leasing and its municipal partners get a handle on the building's issues and address them efficiently, said Home Leasing's Garwood.
"It’s not just advocacy, it's facilitation," he said. "Rochester is a city that has a lot of issues that need a lot of attention. Quality of housing and poverty are two really good examples. And these things are not going to get addressed without advocacy."
How families are adjusting to new home
Her rent increased by about $30 a month, which is a small price to pay for the caliber of renovations completed, she said.
Rivera is active in other Tenant Union efforts, including a recent rent strike and push for renovations at The Lofts at North Clinton on North Clinton Avenue.
A number of residents at the complex withheld their rent several months ago, citing mold, a lack of running water and other issues in their units, and they were sent eviction notices by the landlord.
'I'm fed up with it': Tenants at The Lofts at North Clinton fight evictions
Those notices have since been withdrawn, with the landlord indicating he would fix the more serious issues.
Home Leasing is currently managing the property with an acquisition anticipated in the coming months, said Garwood.
Having lived in dilapidated buildings for periods of her life and now being supported by neighbors, friends and fellow union members, Rivera feels she’s in a unique position to empower others.
“I grew up in bad conditions, and now as an adult, I feel like I can help others the way that I’ve been helped,” she said.
Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network's New York State Team. She investigates stories about your consumer rights, including scams, negligent landlords, safety issues and wayward businesses.