Residents of troubled Thurston Road complex get a win 

Barbara Rivera and her two young children were just hours from losing their apartment at 447 Thurston Road when she and the other tenants in the building got a reprieve, at least in part because the building's owner, Thurston Road Realty is selling the property.

Rivera had complained about the deteriorating apartment over the past year, even going as far as taking the problems to a City Court judge. A few months after she moved in, a piece of the ceiling fell. The building has problems with cockroaches and mice, it's not secure, it has black mold, and "the heating in the winter sucks," she says.

Representatives from Thurston Road Realty, the company formerly controlled by New York City investor Peter Hungerford, told her that she and her children would have to leave the apartment by October 30; advocates working with the City-Wide Tenant Union say she was being pushed out because of those complaints. But when October 30 arrived, representatives for the landlord notified Ryan Acuff, an activist and organizer working with the tenant union, that for the time being, the company wouldn't force people out of their apartments.

The news came as a relief to Rivera.

"It was so stressful trying to figure out where I was going to put all my belongings," Rivera said.

Rivera and other residents of 447 Thurston Road, as well as activists working with the City-Wide Tenant Union, see last week's commitment from Thurston Road Realty as a victory. They've been calling on the company to stop evicting or displacing residents and to make serious repairs to the building, as well as to another Thurston Road Realty-owned property at 967 Chili Avenue.

The City of Rochester also sued the company and Hungerford to force repairs at the complexes. City Court Judge Maija Dixon, who is overseeing the case, has ordered Thurston Road Realty to make repairs and report back on its progress. And Brenden Kyle, the other partner in Thurston Road Realty, has since pushed Hungerford out of the company, according to Acuff.

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Residents of the Thurston Road complex see additional reason to be hopeful that the property will be repaired. Home Leasing, a family-owned Rochester company with a large portfolio that includes subsidized housing, has a contract to buy the building if certain contingencies are met, says Adam Driscoll, the company's development manager.

"They've been very open, accessible," Acuff says. "They've been very respectful."

Home Leasing also has a contract to buy 967 Chili Avenue from Thurston Road Realty, Driscoll says.

Rochester housing activists also say that the Thurston Road and Chili Avenue residents' struggles illustrate the need for local and statewide housing reforms. They're working with a coalition of other activists from across the state to get Albany to act on those issues.

The coalition is calling for the creating of housing courts in Upstate New York's largest cities. The courts would handle eviction proceedings but also allow tenants to take landlords to court over health- and safety-related issues.

Activists also wants the state to enact rent-stabilization laws for Upstate cities and add so-called good-cause eviction protections for tenants. They argue that sudden rent increases can displace month-to-month tenants, and that landlords sometimes retaliate against tenants who complain about the conditions of their units by evicting them.

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Rochester activists are also trying to get traction on the idea of apartment complexes that are cooperatively owned by low-income people. City-Wide Tenant Union representatives have also been talking with Home Leasing about ultimately turning 447 Thurston into cooperative housing, Acuff says.

But even if that doesn't happen, the ownership change would still be an improvement for residents, Acuff says.

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