Archive for October, 2009

“Mr. Donovan, tear down this house. And this one. And this one. And that one over there. That’s the message federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan should take with him from his visit to Buffalo last week.”

So begins a recent Buffalo News editorial on HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s visit to Buffalo. Demolishing vacant housing seems to be the preferred policy for resolving Buffalo’s housing crisis.

However, vacant housing isn’t Buffalo’s only housing crisis. Nearly 2,000 individuals and families in Buffalo cannot afford housing and as a result are currently homeless. This number does not reflect the many more that may be doubled and tripled up with friends and family or who are otherwise precariously housed and may be in danger of losing their homes.

It is a paradoxical situation: increasing housing vacancy rates along with increasing numbers of homeless individuals. How did Buffalo get here?

This graph from the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s report Without Housing tells part of the story:

Beginning with the Reagan Administration and continuing to the present, HUD’s subsidized housing budget has been slashed yearly. Thousands of units of affordable housing have been lost.

These cuts correspond to the dramatic increase in the number of homeless individuals in the 1980’s and the steady increases in homelessness since then.

Mr. Donovan must hear about both sides of Buffalo’s housing crisis: the vacancy as well as the homelessness.

He must hear that plans to revitalize or restore Buffalo’s housing stock must make the development and preservation of affordable housing a central priority. Otherwise this twisted paradox of a housing crisis will continue to hinder any attempt to revitalize this city.

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Developer Mark Croce will be receiving a $1.35 million hand-out from New York State tax payers to turn a vacant downtown building into an “upscale boutique hotel at Franklin and West Huron streets.” Croce is “convinced there’s a market for an upscale boutique hotel that offers larger rooms with some unique amenities.”

This handout is coming in the form of a Restore NY grant which is intended to “stabilize neighborhoods and revitalize urban areas.”

Which neighborhood is being stabilized here?

Who will benefit from this kind of urban revitalization? The “upscale” market Croce is convinced is out there–we’ll say those households making more than $150,000/year–accounts for about 3% of households in Buffalo.

In other words, $1.35 million of public money will be used to provide a tiny part of the community with presidential suites, pent-houses, and “unique amenities.”

This is money that could be used to stabilize or revitalize the neighborhoods of the 30.3% of people living in poverty in Buffalo, still the third poorest city in the country. This money could even be used to provide basic housing to the hundreds of individuals and families that are homeless on any given day in Buffalo.

Instead this public money will be used to help a wealthy developer provide upscale hotel suites for wealthy travelers and community members.

The County is also looking to tear down buildings in downtown Buffalo. In an effort to avoid being held responsible to Constitutional standards for jails and prisons, the county wants to build a new multimillion dollar county lockup downtown.

Hotels for the wealthy, expensive jails for the rest of us.

Is this how the people of Buffalo and Erie County want their money spent?

Does this benefit the whole or even very much of the community?

Or does it continue to subsidize wealthy developers and their clients while a third of the city lives in poverty?

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