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Buffalo, Niagara Falls to fight blight with settlement award

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Buffalo and Niagara Falls are among 18 cities across New York State that will share $10 million over the next two years aimed at transforming blighted neighborhoods.

Launched in April, Cities RISE is one of the state's strategies to help families and communities rebuild from the collapse of the housing market. The money comes from financial settlements with banking institutions across the country for their part in the housing market collapse.

The funds will pay for a two-year subscription to Building Blocks, a platform designed to integrate housing code enforcement, tax liens, police and fire calls, among other data, so cities can make better decisions about neighborhoods. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said that includes decisions about abandoned buildings.

"We inherited literally thousands of blighted structures," said Brown. "We have now been able to demolish over 6,100 of those structures. There are only about 170 that remain in the city's inventory and now we have all of the money we need to demolish and remove these existing blighted structures."

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said modern technology is a necessity, rather than a luxury, for fighting blight these days. Cities are also supported by a 2016 state law prompted by the housing crisis that requires mortgagees to maintain foreclosed properties, creates an electronic vacant property registry and expedites the foreclosure process so homes can get back on the market.

The state said more money will come to cities from the housing settlement in additional phases and may include funding for a community collaborative and additional resources.

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