© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gentrification: Two West Side Stories - Part I

Parkdale homeowner George Toledo
photos by Joyce Kryszak
Parkdale homeowner George Toledo

By Joyce Kryszak


Buffalo, NY –

Efforts over the years to revitalize the troubled West Side seemed like a lost cause to some. But housing advocates kept plugging away and now it seems the West Side is rebounding. So well, in fact, that now advocates are concerned gentrification is creeping in.

They worry that could end up pushing out the neighborhood's low-income residents.

A lot of work has gone into the little rooms of George Toledo's yellow, two-story home on Parkdale. The Puerto Rican immigrant darts from room to room showing off the improvements he has made.

He bought the house seven years ago for only $12,000. Shaking his head and smiling, Toledo said there is still a lot to do. He points to the old wood framed windows where a strong wind outside ripples plastic that is taped over the glass.

Toledo said those will not get replaced anytime soon.

"They closed my account because I didn't have enough funds for one week. Now my income tax money is in limbo," said Toledo. "But that's O.K. That's O.K."

It is that attitude that made Toledo a good candidate for a home-buyer assistance program through West Side Ministries, one of several not-for-profits that work with low-income home buyers.

Folding his arms over his chest, Toledo glances down at the floor. The middle-aged man said he sure did not look like a good candidate.

"I just came from the City Mission and I wasn't just a staff member - I was a resident of that place," said Toledo. "And I wasn't making much. So, they took a chance on me."

Now, Toledo is an ordained minister who goes back to the City Mission to help other people climb out of homelessness.

To earn a living, Toledo works a full-time security job, making $15 an hour. Toledo said he and his wife, who just lost her job, are barely making it. So,he said it practically knocked him over when his new property tax assessment came.

"You could buy this house, that one, that one, and that one - four houses for what they are trying to charge me for this for taxes," said Toledo. "$79,000 - they must be out of their mind."

But along certain blocks of Parkdale and on scattered blocks of other West Side streets, property values are going up. In some cases - a lot. Harvey Garrett is with the West Side Collaborative, another of the not-for-profit housing groups working to repair and resell vacant houses on the West Side to low-income people.

Garrett said new data shows that property values west of Richmond have tripled over the last ten years.

"A lot of it is based on the work we've been doing to clean up the area west of Richmond, to make it a better, safer place to live, people are coming across Richmond Avenue now as if there was never a problem and picking up houses and spending well over a $100,000,: said Garrett.

He added, "that's what's driving up the property values. Average property value of $78,000 west of Richmond is just phenomenal."

WBFO asked real estate agent Rick Lee from Realty USA if he has seen an increase in values. Lee said yes, and the trend seems to be accelerating.

"I found that the prices were considerably higher this first four months compared to the first four months of last year," said Lee.

Eight housing groups formed a partnership a few years ago to maximize their revitalization efforts. But it has apparently worked so well, they now have a new mission - figuring out how to prevent people such as Toledo from being priced out of his own neighborhood.

27-year old Whitney Crispell shows us around the 15th Street property she bought four years ago. At $56,000, the property with two houses was a great investment.

Crispell sits down at her dining room table, one leg folded beneath her, and her blond gathered up loosely in a knot. Crispell said she lived in Amherst all her life before coming to the West Side.

"When I bought this house I knew that I wasn't from this neighborhood. I knew this wasn't where I grew up," said Crispell. "And I didn't want to come in and start telling the people who have been here how to live or what they needed to fix in their neighborhood."

Crispell said she was drawn to the neighborhood in the first place because of her volunteer work with the housing group, PUSH Buffalo. But now Crispell worries the improvements she is making could raise property values in the neighborhood and drive out low-income renters and would-be buyers.

But there are others moving in who say there is room for everyone on the West Side.

Connecticut Street is home to the five-story brick, circa 1890's former Horsefeathers salvage warehouse. The 25,000 square foot empty behemoth is being bought by architect developer Karl Frizlen.

The vacant building was on the tax rolls for about $65,000. But Frizlen will pay roughly $475,000 for it and invest at last three million dollars more turning it into a trendy mixed-use facility.

There will be organic food specialty vendors downstairs and high-end apartments on the top floors. Rent will be $950 a month - about three times the average rent paid in the area.

Frizlen points out that the building was vacant so he is not displacing anyone. But he admits the project will likely create a shift in the neighborhood's market rate.

"Yes, I think it will trigger a trend to higher property values, but the property values on the West Side are so depressed, still very much distressed that a healthy mix between lower and higher valued properties is very healthy for the City and for the West Side."

But housing advocates question whether that mix can be controlled.

Wednesday, in the final part of the series, Gentrification - Two West Side Stories, WBFO will take a look at the struggle housing advocates face trying to keep the West Side economically diversified.