Higgins proposes renovating, not razing Perry Projects

Jun 12, 2017

Congressman Brian Higgins says it's time to act in Buffalo's Commodore Perry public housing neighborhood. He recommends renovating a dozen long-vacant buildings and reopening them as affordable housing. But neighbors are skeptical and made that known during Higgins' Monday morning news conference.

Higgins visited the public housing complex this morning to pitch his idea. While 20 acres of land now sits vacant and dilapidated, the brick apartment buildings remain structurally sound. He recommends developers offer proposals to clean and convert them into affordable housing.

A view from a courtyard near some of the long-vacant buildings in the Commodore Perry Housing Project in Buffalo. Congressman Brian Higgins urges action, renovating them into affordable housing opportunities. Neighbors fear it will result in gentrification that will drive low-income residents away.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"Prospectively, the people that want to live here deserve to live in conditions that are not what we see here," Higgins said. "We have courtyards here that, if properly maintained, would be very ideal, complementary living conditions in addition to units that would be about 950 square feet, that would be affordable."

Neighbors overtook Higgins' news conference, expressing their frustration that their public housing project has been long neglected. They also fear that if the vacant properties are converted into "affordable housing," it will not be what current low-income residents will be able to afford.

"We have a lot of people that are disabled, a lot of people that are not able to work that's paying 50 dollars a month for rent. It's not fair to us," said Dorothy Flakes, president of the Commodore Perry Resident Council. "Also, they promised us that once these got torn down, they were going to remodel them, rebuild them back up, so the people that moved out will have first access to these apartments."

Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Commissioner Leonard Williams, left, delivers a point to Congressman Brian Higgins. Listening at center is Dorothy Flakes, president of the Commodore Perry Resident Council.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Leonard Williams, a commissioner with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, says they've been unable to fix up the buildings in recent years because there has not been adequate funding to do it. But he vowed that the BMHA would work to ensure those living in the project now are not entirely shut out. Williams also suggested the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would also not easily let it happen.

"It is not easy just to convert what was once public housing into any other kind of housing," he said. "The people that live here, or lived here, need to have a place to come back to. That's what we're fighting for."

Some also worry about the rumors that the Perry Projects are being eyeballed as a site for a future Buffalo Bills stadium, though Higgins noted that no such plan has been put forward. The pro football team has stated in recent months it is in no hurry to leave its current home, New Era Field in Orchard Park.