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What good is new housing few can afford?

Trautman Associates

Buffalo has a booming housing sector and more units are on the way. However, some Common Councilmembers want to protect people of low and moderate incomes from being crushed under the development steamroller.

The City Planning Board meets Monday afternoon, with more housing construction and adaptive reuse on the table. That follows waves of development, even into areas where some people did not want to drive just a few years ago.

The stock of old and unused buildings available to be converted into housing is getting a little thin because so many have been fixed up. There is a proposal before the Planning Board to convert a major section of the old Pierce-Arrow plant into 107 housing units.

Council President Darius Pridgen is arguing for some protection for those who held on in the bad years, like those in Pilgrim Village where there is a proposal for some market rate units.

"My biggest question was, 'What about the people who are already there who are subsidized? Will they have to move out?' And I think that developers need to know the Council is paying attention to it," Pridgen said. "The people need to know we're paying attention to it. Of course we welcome development, but development should be inclusive and should not be exclusive to the point that only the rich can live in Buffalo."

Other Councilmembers say they are seeing higher purchase prices and much higher rents showing up in their districts and they want some protection for long-time residents, especially against gentrification.

"People cannot afford to pay the rents that they are charging today, so we have to look out for these folks that can't look out for themselves and I think we do that by making part of a policy," said Majority Leader David Rivera. "You're right. If you get government funding and you're subsidized, then we need to sit at the table with you and say, 'Look, how many units are for affordable housing?' And I think that's one way that we can make the neighborhoods more diverse."

Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt agrees there have to be some protections.
"As the city continues to be developed, it's very important We're all happy that it's happening, but we just can't push people who are of moderate means or poor folk out because the city is now in a boom. We need to make sure that we take care of them," Wyatt says. "There should be a safety net that we as legislators make sure that we develop for those who have stayed the course while we've gone through our ups and downs. They should not be pushed out."

Councilmember Richard Fontana says rents are becoming so high maybe there should be help for tenants to figure out if they could buy for less money, although they would have to be taught about maintenance and those costs.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.