An affordable housing project known as Mt. Aaron Village, when completed some time next year, will include dozens of apartments as well as units and on-site assistance for individuals struggling with homelessness.
In a large plot at the corner of Genesee and Adams Streets, where several piles of earth were covered beneath tarps, several elected officials and dignitaries united - wearing masks in light of the pandemic - for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
"I know we want to celebrate with high fives and all that kind of thing, but we all know that it's not probably the greatest time to be doing that," said Ben Upshaw, managing partner of CB Emmanuel Realty. "We'll save that for the grand opening next year."
Upshaw said Mt. Aaron Village will be multiple buildings with 43 apartment, ranging from one-bedroom to three-bedroom units, and 16 townhouses. There will also be 4,000 square feet of commercial space. BestSelf Behavioral Health was identified as the future occupant of that space.
Mayor Byron Brown said with more residents facing the threat of eviction from their current homes, due to the pandemic and its economic impact, a project such as Mt. Aaron Village becomes more important.
"Many people are going to have a hard time paying their mortgages. Affordable housing is needed, more than ever, in the City of Buffalo," he said.
The project is estimated at $20.3 million. New York State is providing $18.6 in tax breaks and is covering apartments available to homeless individuals through the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative, administered by the NYS Office of Addition Services and Supports.
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen called Tuesday morning's groundbreaking a victory for the residents who stayed through the neighborhood's lowest times.
"When there was prostitution on Genesee, drug dealing on Genesee, neighborhoods falling apart, they stayed," Pridgen said. "So when you look at the neighbors who will be able to look across the street, and not see drug dealing, and not see crime, but see a real community being built, those are the real winners today."
But there are more steps to take, other speakers added. Pastor Dwayne Jones of Mt. Aaron Missionary Baptist Church cited Martin Luther King, Jr.'s remarks that by any means necessary, keep moving forward.
"This is the beginning of the Buffalo community moving," he said. "And we are taking steps. But yet, we must continue to still move. We need to move with a supermarket on the East Side. We need to continue moving with offering affordable housing to our residents on the East Side. We need to keep moving, so that every house is going to have the internet, so our kids can have access not only to Buffalo, but to the whole wide world. This is only a step of us moving forward."