© 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
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate Today Banner

Gentrification: Two West Side Stories-part II

Community advocate Michael Brundige
photos by Joyce Kryszak
Community advocate Michael Brundige

By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-968069.mp3

Buffalo, NY –

The Elmwood Village is no longer the only part of Buffalo's West Side that is in demand. Neighborhoods further west are attracting new investment, and populations of wealthier city dwellers.

That has housing advocates scurrying to help lower-income people who already live there hold their ground.

Architect turned developer Karl Frizlen meanders casually down a hall of his converted 1920's school on Lafayette. The German immigrant squints his eyes as if remembering when he talks about why the West Side reminds him of his native home.

The long-time West Side resident now has his offices in the school that he transformed into trendy residential and office space. It just opened last year, but all three floors are already filled. In fact, Frizlen says there's a waiting list.

"Somebody moves out within 30 days of the lease we rent them out again, so there's definitely a market," said Frizlen.

The apartments go for $950 a month. That is what Frizlen will charge for similar apartments in the old Horsefeathers warehouse on Connecticut Street once that renovation is complete. And it appears he will have no trouble filling those either.

"We quickly realized that we really didn't need to do anything to get attention from recent college grads, Elmwood Village, suburban-type people. They were going to hear about the West Side and the opportunities and figure it out on their own," said Whitney Crispell.

Crispell is a suburban transplant to the West Side herself. She volunteers for the West Side Housing partnership. Eight not-for-profit agencies are working together to revitalize the West Side. Crispell is on the marketing committee. She said the recent housing trends are giving the committee a new challenge.

"Where we really needed to market the services of these housing agencies the most was right in our own backyard," said Crispell.

That kind of outreach by the housing agency, West Side Ministries, made it possible for George Toledo to buy his home on Parkdale. WBFO introduced Toledo in part I of the series.

Toledo said West Side Ministries worked with him for more than a year to educate him about home buying and to get him credit worthy.

"I always have problems with the bank, believe me, from the beginning," said Toledo. "I wish all of us in the neighborhood could go through the same thing I went through and learn."

But that learning process takes time. And it is time some housing advocates said they just do not have.

"The last four houses that I looked at, the last one sold within four days," said Dohse-Peck. "So, a certain price category in our target area sells like hot cakes," said Cornelia Dohse-Peck, Executive Director for West Side Ministries.

The agency buys about three houses a year for around $20,000 each, rehabs them for about an equal amount and then grooms low-income people to buy them, basically at cost.

Dohse-Peck said it is a process that takes time - and patience on the part of banks, who have to wait for clients to become "mortgage-worthy."

But according Rick Lee with Realty USA, the banks do not have to wait.

"Most of the stuff that is being sold if I look at this, probably 90% of them are cash deals...yeah, pretty much all of them are cash," said Lee.

Lee looked at about a dozen recent sales on the West Side in the $20,000 range. He confirmed, the houses are indeed going like hot cakes. Some even sell for more than the list price.

All of this means that the neighborhood's disadvantaged, would-be home buyers, have a pretty hard time beating out investors.

That is why West Side resident Michael Brundige is working to level the playing field.

It takes Brundige only about three long strides to make his way across the street to where a group of teens are playing ball. The African American towers above most of them.

But the young men are not looking up to Brundige because of his height.

The general contractor shies away from WBFO's camera and smiles broadly as he talks about what he calls his "real work." The successful contractor and father of four, devotes all of his free time to mobilizing his neighbors to clean up the West Side, figuratively and literally.

"I try. I'm out here with a broom sweeping, and doing things, and putting hammers to nails and helping everyone that we can," said Brundige. "But, it still is this way, so we have a long way to go."

Brundige and his ad-hoc group have shut down drug houses and replaced them with rehabbed houses, gardens and playgrounds. They teach young people construction skills then help them land jobs. They link adult residents up with employment and housing support agencies, so they can become financially stable - and get in the pipeline for home ownership.

Brundige said people need to get ready for the opportunities that are out there - before it is too late.

"I'm certainly not the one who's going to be moved and displaced. I won't let that happen. And I'm trying not let it happen to my community, but they also have to take some accountability for themselves," said Brundige.

Still, housing advocates said they need to revamp and speed up their efforts too.

The City of Buffalo also announced it will freeze property assessments for three years, beginning in 2012. That should help, especially current low-income home owners.

No matter what though, Parkdale homeowner George Toledo said he is not going anywhere.

"We have a good family. We've been trying hard and we stay in our neighborhood. We don't move. We die here," said Toledo.

To make sure Toledo and others can stay, the housing partnership has made tracking and stopping gentrification a priority of its five year master plan.