About eight years ago when PUSH Buffalo was first beginning to form, one of the biggest, most immediate concerns that we noticed about housing conditions (as they relate to the West Side of Buffalo) at that time was that the area had a surplus of dilapidated housing. The city of Buffalo as a whole has a surplus of dilapidated housing. Simultaneously there was a lack of living wage job opportunities for people of all types, living all over Buffalo. We all know the story – as an international economic climate changes, a once great Northeastern industrial city falls into stormy hard times. No doubt our fallen economy can be blamed for our fall from industrial grace into the nation’s 3rd poorest city.
Our mission has always been to develop solutions to these two blaring problems that smack most of us in the face on a daily basis (jobs & housing). If you can’t find good work, you won’t be able to afford a home, or rent an apartment for that matter. Or, if you find good work you want quality affordable housing to live in regardless if you own, or rent.
With any new endeavor – whether a non-profit, or business, etc… the best strategy is to focus energy on a target area. It made sense to the founding members of PUSH Buffalo to concentrate our efforts on the West Side of Buffalo first, using the experience gained here to spread to not only other parts of Buffalo, but also to other areas of the state/nation.
Buffalo has too many problems too numerous to mention, and the problem of its dilapidated housing – like our other problems, won’t be solved overnight. Unfortunately there is no exact science, or recipe for mixed use, rust belt revitalization. We have found as we are constantly seeing, that it will take a combination of a variety of ways to create a healthy, and sustainable community.
“Let the market drive the price”. We don’t believe in repeating this wheel. Unfortunately much of our nation’s past infrastructure was built on segregated practices. To create strong neighborhoods with high quality, affordable housing (available to a large cross section of our residents), and to decrease the rate of housing abandonment (in the 3rd poorest city in the US) – low-income residents have to be involved. They become involved by reclaiming empty houses from neglectful public and private owners, and redeveloping them for occupancy. We develop neighborhood leaders capable of gaining community control over the development process and planning for the future of the neighborhood. Creating a city of good neighbors where a high quality of life exists for some and not many others is not only cold, it lacks basic humanity.
In the housing development work that we do, we generally start with some of the worst buildings and vacant lots on the street. These long-vacant and derelict properties are expensive to bring back to life. After years of deferred maintenance and abandonment, they generally need full gut rehabilitation – including new roofs, facades, and systems. We often find ourselves putting in all new roofs, plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. We find ourselves rebuilding foundations, floors, walls, and ceilings. It’s a lot of work, and we try to do it in a way that is as sustainable and durable as possible. In order to create housing that will be affordable for the long term; we use public funds to subsidize the costs of this work. Those funds require us to correct every code violation –this includes finding and removing every environmental hazard such as lead, asbestos, and mold. These are typical issues we deal with that we find in the buildings we work on. To create a home that meets some very high standards, not surprisingly, it takes a large amount of money. Without such funds, these projects would not be possible as the costs would lead to rents far higher than the market could bear, let alone be affordable to the neighborhood residents for whom we do this work. The other option of course is to play The What If Game. “What if someone grabs this very nice, but falling apart house and rehabs it? What if someone magically comes along and transforms this vacant lot into something nice? What if the housing fairy comes along and transforms this old apartment building into a vibrant, livable community haven?”
If you walk or drive down Massachusetts Avenue, I honestly believe that everyone reading this would be convinced that our strategy is working. Beautifully renovated buildings that had been vacant and doomed to demolition, a huge new park planned by PUSH members, and huge community gardens built and maintained by PUSH on parallel streets.
All of this development has been achieved through constant community planning. We have monthly planning meetings with periodic mass events and surveys.
We acknowledge that we may have had a learning curve or that there may be some minor issues with some other properties – and we are diligently working to find the best solution to correct these. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Progressive greatness takes some time to develop.
It must also be noted that PUSH has recently secured funding to weatherize more than 80 low-income homes on Buffalo’s West Side. Adding to this, we are not alone in our efforts to create a stable and vital mixed-income neighborhood on the West Side. Hundreds of home owners and small property owners have rehabbed and maintained their properties.
Other organizations also work on affordable housing, economic development, and community revitalization. PUSH hopes to continue its partnerships with all of these efforts. As such, instead of creating new programs at PUSH that replicate what already exists to promote homeownership, or assist homeowners with repairs – we partner and support groups like Habitat for Humanity, Westside Ministries, Home Front, and West Side NHS. PUSH thinks that high quality affordable rental housing is part of the mix that creates strong neighborhoods, and as the neighborhood continues to become a place where people want to live, we want to make sure there are housing opportunities for people at all income levels.
We welcome all to become PUSH members and be part of our work. We have meetings and events almost every week and our offices serve as a thriving youth center. For more information, go to www.pushbuffalo.org