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Finding quality affordable housing a challenge for many Buffalo residents

Affordable housing in Buffalo is an issue that affects thousands of people and it’s made worse by rising rents in some parts of the city. In the second part of a series, WBFO’s Mike Desmond asks: What can be done? 

The construction in northwest Buffalo is a sign of the city’s economic revival. A new business incubator and upscale apartments will bring life to an old industrial area.

But in a city where the median rent is about $700 a month, the apartments can be out of reach for many people.

One alternative for affordable housing is Buffalo’s housing authority. But many of its properties are rundown.

“This should not be substandard housing,” said University Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt.

He believes a slowdown in federal funding shouldn't be an excuse for shoddy housing and bad treatment

“We have residents that live there and deserve every right that every other resident deserves for quality affordable housing and it seems as though the cuts that the HUD has made that have harmed this facility have been detrimental," Wyatt said. "And, again, we have to pull up our bootstraps and see what we are going to do because these are people. These are residents. These are citizens of the City of Buffalo,” said Wyatt.

But federal report cards on the housing agency show grades that high school dropouts would be ashamed to receive. The Kenfield and Langfield projects in Wyatt's district had a grade of 100...combined.

Tracy, a woman who wouldn’t provide her last name,  lives there.

“It's okay. I basically stay here because it's cheap and I really can't afford to move right now,” she said.

Nonprofits are helping to create more affordable housing.

PUSH Buffalo will open and fill 30 units for seniors on Massachusetts Avenue on the West Side this month.

And there are other projects scattered around the city. But housing advocates says many more are needed.

John Washington of PUSH said a government policy known as inclusionary zoning would provide many more housing units much faster.

“The private market has to play some role in affordable housing because we have this crisis of homelessness,” said Washington. “We have all of these things going on and we, affordable housing developers, people in communities don't have the access to capital and the technical abilities or the access to the technical abilities to build the affordable housing at the scale that we really need it.”

The idea is that developers who get public money have to provide some affordable units.

That's being studied in City Hall right now, but coming up with a mandatory percentage is a major issue.

Developer Rocco Termini said inclusionary zoning won’t solve the problem.

“Let's say you did 5 percent," he said. "There might be 100 units a year built. That's five units a year. It's not a lot of units.

“It's not going to make any kind of a difference, so we're making an issue out of something that really isn't an issue. There is a lot of affordable housing in Buffalo.”

Washington said creating more affordable housing is crucial for everyone in Buffalo. Without it, lots of people will be pushed out of their homes by gentrification and rising housing costs.

“Can they get any benefit from this gentrification that's happening? The answer is no,” said Washington. “So, when people are displaced from Elmwood, they are moving to the West Side. When they are displaced from the West Side, they are moving to the East Side.

"So, I feel like this gentrification conversation, people have been like: 'Oh, that's their problem. That's their problem over there.' But, the reality is it's all of our problem. Because, it's going to reform how this city looks, for quite some time.”


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.
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