Hoyt on the Brown Administration
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:17 am, July 31, 2008
In this week’s AV, I wrote an account of Tuesday night’s public hearing in the Common Council on the City of Buffalo’s 2008 Restore New York grant application. During the proceedings, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt—who wrote the legislation that led to the $300 million Restore New York program—laid some pretty heavy treads on the Brown administration.
Here are Hoyt’s remarks:
I am here to tonight to talk about the original intent of the RestoreNY program, which developed out of legislation I drafted called Repair New York, and to talk specifically about how the City of Buffalo has fallen short for the last two years in producing a thorough, thoughtful application that would maximize the potential of this funding to revitalize our City. This year’s application represents the third and final round of available RestoreNY funding, worth a statewide total of 150 million dollars, and as such there is no more room for error. New York State’s fiscal condition may not permit another round of funding. If the City of Buffalo does not produce a more inclusive and creative application this year, then three years of opportunity to transform the landscape of our neighborhoods and three years of state-funded support will have been squandered.
RestoreNY funding is intended to attract individuals, families, industry, and commercial enterprises to the city. The funding is flexible enough to allow for creativity in putting together a plan that mixes rehabilitation, restoration, deconstruction, and demolition to strategically strengthen neighborhoods. To date, the City of Buffalo has used RestoreNY funding primarily for demolition of properties, and even that has not been done in a particularly strategic way.
Statewide, the first round of RestoreNY disbursed 50 million dollars in funding for various programs. The City of Buffalo received 3 million dollars from that application, used entirely for demolition projects. Round One allocated a total of 11.8 million dollars for demolition, and 29.2 million for rehabilitation. The second round of funding provided 100 million dollars in state funding for this program. The City of Buffalo received 5.7 million dollars for demolition and 4.5 million dollars for renovation of the Trico Building. While renovating one major industrial building shows a slight shift toward rehabilitation, the fact remains that The City of Buffalo’s application requested 30 million dollars in funding and received just over 10 million. To those who say demolition is a crucial component of eliminating blight and making our neighborhoods safer, I agree completely. Demolition HAS to be part of the solution. This is so important I need to repeat it. Demolition HAS to be part of the solution. However, it does not alter the fact that the RestoreNY program was never intended to be used overwhelmingly for demolition and one commercial rehabilitation. There are other funds available for demolition. I secured 5 million dollars for thousands of demolitions that were done in 2007 above and beyond the 3 million dollars awarded through RestoreNY.
It seems to me that the City of Buffalo’s lack of creativity and vision in putting together a RestoreNY application that could be a starting point in neighborhood revitalization is part of a bigger failure of leadership on housing issues. Much of the focus has been on big picture economic development, including a large effort to draw big business to Buffalo. What is the point of bringing big business to our City if we do not have affordable, thriving neighborhoods where people would choose to relocate to work and raise a family? That is the only way to create the holistic economic development that will truly restore Buffalo to what is should be.
As a state legislator, I have always tried to be inclusive in developing legislation that would address the full scope of our housing crisis, turning to the community members and organizations who best understand the breadth and depth of the crisis and who can provide information on their own unique solutions or direct me toward best practices from similar communities. This grassroots-focused development strategy led to the Affordable Housing Corporation’s Block-by-Block program, which is going to bring a few million dollars to Buffalo to do what the City of Buffalo has not yet allowed RestoreNY to do—to acquire and rehabilitate dilapidated but salvageable properties that can anchor neighborhood reinvestment.
This grassroots-focused development strategy led me to draft legislation that would enable creation of a “land bank” to promote the acquisition, rehabilitation, management, and strategic reuse of vacant properties countywide. The City of Buffalo, which owns over 8,000 properties in Buffalo and has proved to be a very poor landlord indeed, has refused to support this legislation in the interest of gaining more control over properties they cannot currently maintain or market. Even when presented with a significant resource like RestoreNY that would enable a more comprehensive strategy for addressing these serious concerns, the City of Buffalo chooses the path of least resistance.
The City of Buffalo seeks no community input, nor does it seek to craft an inclusive strategy that would: promote strategic demolition where necessary; provide resources for rehabilitation to strengthen neighborhoods and encourage additional investment; or develop a greenspace management program to turn the vacant lots created through so many thousands of demolitions into bountiful additions to the fabric of the City.
Demolition is not the only solution to urban blight, despite the City of Buffalo’s efforts to make us believe that that is so. Demolition is an important component for a number of reasons, but we must do so much more. RestoreNY will give us the resources to allow us to do so much more. Combined with powerful community-changing initiatives like my land bank legislation and the Block-by-Block program, we can stop destroying our neighborhoods house by house, stop creating vacant lots that end up as trash-strewn fields that contribute to neighborhood blight, and stop waving goodbye to our neighbors as they move away from home. Demolition is a small part of an immense crisis, and it is time to do more. We cannot wait any longer.
I understand that the Common Council must vote to approve or reject the final RestoreNY application presented by the City’s administration, and that no Council input into the application process save that one vote has been requested nor welcomed to date. I think it is commendable that you have come together now to demand that the community be given a greater say, and I thank you for allowing me to speak to you tonight. Let me just say in closing that I believe the RestoreNY program’s squandered opportunities did not come about because one person thought too small. I suggest that the bigger issue is a broader administrative failure to plan ahead, build partnerships, and foster a sense of direction and leadership in the community. Without these things, we could claim we have attracted billions of dollars in investments and still have nothing to show for it because the fabric of our neighborhoods has been so degraded. In your role as Councilmembers, I ask that you do all that you can to ensure that this year’s application focuses more on raising Buffalo up, instead of razing it to the ground.
I urge the City of Buffalo to make this year’s RestoreNY application a more inclusive process to create a more inclusive application. Thank you for your time.