Mayor Byron Brown joked that Buffalo should be renamed "Ribbon-cutting City" as he joined others to dedicate a newly-completed affordable housing project inside a former school building. Those who joined him it's not the investment of state dollars alone that's helping the city's economic renaissance but how it's being spent.
The Lofts at University Heights, developed by CB Emmanuel Realty at the former Buffalo Public School 63 on Lisbon Avenue, is a $16.5 million redevelopment project that formally opened on Friday. The former schoolhouse now offers 44 single- and double-bedroom housing units with rents estimated between $500 and $740 dollars monthly.
"Do not let anybody tell you that affordable housing is not getting built, that companies like CB Emmanuel are not making a difference in the community so that all of our residents can have safe, affordable, quality housing like this," declared Brown.
State leaders say what's making it work is how the money is being utilized. Richard Tobe, Director of Upstate Revitalization for New York State, says the Better Buffalo Fund, an initiative created from Governor Cuomo's Buffalo Billion, gives local leaders more freedom to decide how best to spend the state's investments.
"We're not just providing funding - which we are, and it's a long story about how we were able to free up the money with austerity in Albany - but it's also devolved decision making," Tobe said. "This money did not go right from the state to a project. It's going to the Better Buffalo Fund, a fund which is largely funded by New York State going to the control of, essentially, local officials. Primarily, the mayor and his programs."
This is the second project by CB Emmanuel involving the conversion of a former schoolhouse into affordable housing. Last year, the former South Junior High School in Niagara Falls was converted into 61 mix-income housing units. The theater space in that former school is being utilized by a local dance company and is open to community events.