In Buffalo, the economy is improving and that’s generally good news, but it’s driving up rents in some neighborhoods. That’s bad for people who can’t afford to pay much. In the first of a two-part series, WBFO’s Mike Desmond takes a look at the issue of affordable housing.
Ailane Maldonado comes from her Riverside home to Hope and Restoration Ministry on Richmond Avenue every Sunday.
She used to live closer to the church. But she was pushed out of her West Side neighborhood by rising rents. She moved from a place where she could live with her Spanish and limited English to a community where most speak English.
“It was hard for the people that speak Spanish,” said Maldonado. “I found the Riverside community much more calm.”
For the church's pastor, David Rivera, her story is part of a broader problem -- rapidly rising housing prices on the West Side. The church sends a car to gather members who have moved away.
“We're having to drive out to Riverside and Black Rock, even out to even South Buffalo. People are having to move to South Buffalo. I guess the rents are even less expensive,” said Rivera.
Until pretty recently the West Side was where people went who couldn't afford better housing.
“It's poor people of color. Obviously, there's a large immigrant and minority population on the city's West Side.”
The median rent in Buffalo is $707 a month.
What do you get in a cheap rental? PUSH Buffalo's John Washington would argue what you get is pretty bad.
“Affordable housing is a huge problem on the West Side. I would qualify that as quality affordable housing,” said Washington. “There are places you can rent for $500. Most of them should be condemned by the City of Buffalo and rehabilitated. People should not be allowed to live in a lot of the affordable conditions.”
Who has to live this way? Brendan Mehaffey said the city has been looking hard at the question of affordability. He's executive director of the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning.
“We see a lot with single female head of households, minorities. Geographically, there is a predominance in neighborhoods like Broadway-Fillmore, Genesee-Moselle,” said Mehaffey, “but again, throughout the City of Buffalo, you will see that.”
East Side Councilmember Ulysees Wingo sees two other related issues, seniors and gentrification.
Often seniors are on fixed incomes and if they fix up their homes they may get a big tax increase. Or they may also be offered large amounts in cash for their homes, making way for gentrification.
Wingo said there is no affordable housing for them to move into.
“Affordable housing is directly connected to racial equity, as the people who have been living in these communities that are now being renovated and rehabilitated, they're being priced out of where they have been raising their families for years, decades even,” said Wingo.
Washington describes a ping-pong effect. Some people, like Ailane Maldonado, move from neighborhood to neighborhood in Buffalo. Others may ultimately end up in Cheektowaga because they can't afford to stay in the city.