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Church-led development effort is building neighborhoods

WBFO's Mike Desmond

While there are major housing development projects going on in downtown Buffalo and along the city's Elmwood Strip, churches like True Bethel are developing their own neighborhoods.

When the church moved into a closed Twin Fair department store on East Ferry Street, it was surrounded by not much. There was a fire hall and across the street was a lead-contaminated former battery recycling plant that Albany put millions of dollar into to clean up.

The church has filled that entire area with housing. The city Planning Board recently approved the church's development arm, True Community Development Corporation, building three more houses for sale.

The houses will cost first-time owners at $85,000-$100,000 - fairly cheap in the local housing market. Even the three new houses have a decrepit neighbor being considered for rehab and sale.

Pastor Darius Pridgen says the neighborhood has come a long way.

"Not just to build a house or apartment, but to build a neighborhood," he said. "And I always dreamed of building a neighborhood that had different age groups, so we have the seniors and we have younger families. So, it really has turned out a lot better than even what I ever dreamed of."

Pridgen says the apartments are much sought after because, in a neighborhood with a lot of slumlords, the True Bethel houses are warm in winter and cool in summer and don't have drafts on windy days. All residents of the community are also customers of a Dollar General store the church helped put up.

Pridgen says the new housing the church has built has kept people in the neighborhood and provided modern housing for others.

Credit CCS Construction
30 new townhouses at 858 East Ferry Street sponsored by True Community Development Corp and Belmont Housing Resources of WNY.

"People who live in that neighborhood and many, for instance, in the town houses, have lived in that neighborhood," he said. "They don't have to leave that neighborhood and, when we talk about gentrification -  gentrification the changing of a neighborhood to a middle class standard - it hasn't hurt our area because what we have done is we have built up the neighborhood."

The pastor says more housing is in the works, with the possibility way down the line the various affordable housing projects might be joined by some market rate housing.

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.