Buffalo’s West Side is going through a change. With a surge of development taking place along the Niagara Street strip and the influx of higher-income residents, some longtime West Siders have been forced to find other places to live.
This report was written and produced by Khalid Terrell.
Aaron Bartley, Executive Director of PUSH Buffalo, refers to the change as gentrification.
“The cost to buy a home or rent a home and people who have been living in neighborhoods for long periods of time are displaced in the process,” said Bartley, “meaning that they have to move out of their neighborhood.”
PUSH Buffalo works to create quality and affordable housing opportunities in low-income neighborhoods. While some would argue that development is a good thing, Bartley pointed out low-income residents are feeling some negative effects.
“For decades the rents hovered at around $400, $500, $600," he said, "and now, just in the past two or three years, it’s been become common place to see rents up in the $1,500-$1,600 range.”
Issa Abduokadir grew up on the West Side. These days, the 16-year-old spends some of his time at the Grant Street Neighborhood Center with PUSH Buffalo’s after school program. He and his family emigrated from Kenya more than 10 years ago.
His family was displaced as Buffalo’s housing market changed. For Abduokadir, the West Side is the only home he has known.
“I never been on other sides of Buffalo," he said. "I’ve never been on the South Side, North Side, East Side.”
For many refugees who relocate in Buffalo, the West Side is the first place they settle.
“On the West Side I know all my streets,” said Abdoukadir, “and I know which way to go home.”
Keywanda Estes, a Pittsburgh native, moved to Buffalo nearly two years ago. Estes first settled on the West Side for six months before she was forced to move in search of quality affordable housing.
“When I was living over there I was paying $850, but I don’t want to move in with neighbors because my experience was not great having neighbors,” said Estes “If I had to move back over there it would be a single family and that’s virtually impossible because they want at least $1,500.”
Estes now lives on Buffalo’s East Side. She believes the problem of rising rents is not exclusive to one area.
“It’s not just the West Side, it’s over here, too," Estes said. "The apartment I just moved out of I was paying $850 and this is for the East Side. From what I understand, the East Side is not a high sought-after area, so you figure the rent would be cheaper. I feel the rent everywhere in Buffalo is going up.”
PUSH Buffalo and other affordable housing advocates are fighting for inclusionary zoning laws. They would require developers to reserve a percentage of apartments in buildings with more than 12 units as affordable housing. Bartley believes some resolution is needed to make sure lower-income residents have options.
“And it’s math," Bartley said. "If you’re paying $1,000 a month in rent, you got almost nothing to take home for food, clothing, health care, the other necessities of life, transportation and so you know on the West Side right now, we're on this very fragile moment where we’re working very hard to build affordable housing rapidly.”
However, some local officials and developers favor a voluntary program that would give incentives to spur affordable housing.
A 2016 study by the Buffalo Inclusionary Housing Coalition says Buffalo experienced the seventh-largest increase in rental affordability nationwide in 2015-2016, rising 2.8 percent. Bartley said the increase in residents losing their homes is fueled by rising rents.
“The next few years are going to be a challenge because of the rising housing cost and we’re definitely starting to see some displacement in parts of the West Side,” he said.
A 2014 study found that more than three-quarters of all renters pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent. Keywanda Estes said that is precisely the problem.
“I think that’s sad," she said. "You put out how many families so you can make money. Where are those families going to go? Where are they going to have shelter? This is winter. They have no place to go. Now they’re going to be homeless because quote on quote let’s make money. That’s what it’s always about. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.”