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Housing

In addition to unemployment and health care, housing issues were a fairly frequent concern of Rochester’s central labor bodies.

In 1920 the Central Trades & Labor Council (CTLC) responded to rent schemes of Rochester’s landlords and real estate interests by appointing a committee to investigate rent profiteering. The CTLC also approved a resolution which not only condemned “such practices of extortion which fall heaviest on the wage-earner who is obliged to supinely submit to such advances, or go into the streets,” but called on the Mayor and other officials “to take such measures as will afford relief...” and asked Labor Council delegates to bring the issue before their respective locals, “looking toward united action.”

At its annual meeting that year, the New York State Federation of Labor demanded action by a special session of the legislature and adopted a manifesto “calling for use of public funds for erection of homes; exemption of mortgage loans from taxation; limitation of rental income to ten per cent of property valuation; creation of a state housing commission with labor representation by the New York Building Trades Council; etc.”

Twenty years later labor was still demanding public housing. In 1939 the presidents of both the AFL and CIO councils spoke at a City Council hearing and urged that Rochester adopt a public housing program. In 1940 labor demanded a local Housing Authority and sought to have the City Manager removed for shelving it. The CTLC’s Committee on Housing called a meeting of civic leaders that led to establishing a Citizens City Planning & Housing Council, with which both the CTLC and the Allied Building Trades Council affiliated. The CTLC continued to press for a Housing Authority so Rochester could receive federal and state funds for low-cost housing.

By early 1945 the AFL had presented an 8-point postwar economic program which included federal housing programs.

Soon Rochester formed the Better Housing Association, organized to stimulate interest in a city Housing Authority, and the unions’ own Labor Chest donated $4,000 to defray the Association’s first year expenses. By the end of the year the city had a new Civic Housing Advisory Committee, to which the Mayor named Allied Building Trades officers.

The post-war housing shortage remained critical, however, and in early 1946 CTLC President Anthony Capone presented a plan, endorsed by the Religion and Labor Council, calling for the diversion of all building materials and labor to home construction for six months and the erection of temporary low-cost housing, including quonset huts.

In 1961 the Rochester Labor Council (RLC) was actively supporting the retention of rent controls in Rochester. From 1962 through 1964 the Council was confronting discrimination in housing — according to the NYS Commission for Human Rights, the most significant racial problem in Rochester. When the RLC formed a Civil Rights Committee in November of 1962, their first action was to push for stronger NYS anti-discrimination laws. Alex Gaby, Labor News editor, wrote in 1963 “there must be penal laws which make it a crime — not a wrist-slapping lecture — but a penal crime to deny any abode, anywhere, multiple or single, to any person who can afford it merely on the grounds of the color of his skin or by the way he worships his God; our do-gooders must realize it has been pathetically proven that we have not put our deeds where our consciences lie and there is still discrimination here in Rochester, and here in Monroe County, against non-whites in our midst.”

At the January, 1965 delegates meeting, the RLC had members sign the Open Occupancy pledge, stating that they would not discriminate on the basis of race, color or religion when selling their houses.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s there were many proposals to have the Council or individual unions construct housing for low to middle income families. One plan that came to fruition was the Jack Kenny Memorial Housing development established in 1974 by IUE District 3 on Garland Avenue, off of Mt. Read Boulevard. The complex included 92 low-rent units for seniors and handicapped persons. Both the RLC and the Building Trades Council consistently supported city initiatives to provide such housing.

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