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Affordable housing trickling in to downtown Buffalo

Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Construction is well underway at 201 Ellicott St. in downtown Buffalo.

There are two major building projects visibly underway in downtown Buffalo. One is the Douglas Jemal rehab and rebuilding of the area's tallest building. Seneca One is starting to fill with M&T Bank's tech workers and the outside of downtown's tallest building is a new reddish-brown color. The other project is the much more visible 201 Ellicott St., which is 201 units of affordable housing.

For years, the talk was that this area needed much more affordable housing. It often seemed to come through in dribs and drabs, a senior high-rise here, smaller apartment complex there and lots of talk of more.

Ciminelli Real Estate's 201 Ellicott is highly visible and includes a fresh food market in an area usually considered a food desert, even in a downtown heavily occupied by people with incomes well above the affordable housing level.

President and CEO Paul Ciminelli said Mayor Byron Brown has pushed affordable housing since he took office, but building the units can take time.

"It can be somewhat tedious, but once you really get to know and flatten out the learning curve about it, at the end of the day it was a project that really as a company we all rallied behind," he said.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
201 Ellicott St. will combine affordable housing and a fresh groceries market.

Ciminelli said the company would do it again. Common Council President Darius Pridgen said developers have been diverse.

"One of the things that I'm rather thrilled to see is that now some of the bigger projects, whether it's Mt. Aaron or the late Rhonda Ricks' project being done, some of the chief investors are African American," Pridgen said.

On the West Side, PUSH Buffalo has long worked on affordable housing, new and rehab. The organization's centerpiece right now is the former School 77 on Plymouth Avenue, housing 30 affordable units, its own headquarters and an array of other groups.

Working through the ethnically tangled neighborhood can slow construction, but some new units are on the way. PUSH Executive Director Rahwa Ghirmatzion said that led to changes in planned housing near Congress Street and Delavan Avenue and more units are needed.

"There'll be more affordable housing, especially for the West Side," Ghirmatzion said. "That is critical as we see the neighborhood transitioning and gentrifying very quickly. So we see the explosion of housing property value as well as rental, and people just need good-paying jobs, families with good wages and we of course need to address the climate crisis."

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.