City-county cooperation trumpeted why 'This is Our Time'
As some of Buffalo's difficulties flow across the city line to the suburbs and some of the wealth from the suburbs flows into the city, Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Poloncarz are trumpeting their cooperation on issues like poverty, affordable housing and lead poisoning.
For decades, relationships between mayors and county executives have varied. Former Buffalo Mayor James Griffin used to trumpet his good relationship with then-Erie County Executive Rutkowski. Others? Not so much.
The current office occupants get along and say they have issues in common on which they can work better together, like lead poisoning from lead paint. During his State of the City message Thursday, Brown also pointed to cooperation on fair and affordable housing.
"We have worked closely with my partner in government, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, to enter into an agreement where the first time in 40 years, the city and county are collaborating on a joint strategy for alleviating barriers to fair housing choice and enhancing affordable housing opportunities," Brown said.
The two are also working on mixed-income neighborhoods. Poloncarz has been critical of city development efforts that only benefit high-income residents, sometimes pushing aside much lower-income residents who rode out the bad years and helped Buffalo.
Poloncarz says he wants to make sure people do not get squeezed out, especially downtown.
"As we redevelop downtown Buffalo and redevelop areas across our county we don't create an exclusionary zone, so to speak, where only the wealthy can live," Poloncarz said. "That's a very big concern of mine, especially in downtown and around the medical campus. So, having talked with the mayor over time, he understands the issue and is willing to work with my administration to ensure that we do have sufficient affordable housing across the entire community."
City Hall has spent a lot of time in the last year talking about what is called inclusionary zoning: requiring buildings built with government subsidies to include a percentage of the units set aside for lower-income people. Common Council President Pridgen has said the rules will require people living in those units to have the same access to facilities as other residents.
Poloncarz said the economic picture is much better than just a few years ago.
"Our unemployment rate's right around 5 percent. It was almost 9 percent six years ago, but we're dealing with issues of problems with education. We're still dealing with issues of poverty. We have significant issues we have to deal with regards to transportation. And, I am a supporter of extending the Metro Rail into Amherst because we have to address these issues," he said. "We can't continue to grow as a community but not be able to move people around because we have a bad transportation network."