The City of Buffalo has torn down thousands of condemned houses during Mayor Byron Brown's administration. But a new pilot program announced Tuesday sets a goal of not only demolishing dilapidated properties, but replacing them within months through a community collaboration.
The first project under the Demolition and Immediate Infill Housing Program got underway at 33 Brunswick Boulevard, in the city's Hamlin Park neighborhood. Mayor Brown joined representatives of Habitat for Humanity and the Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association, the entities who are partnering to remove and replace the house which stood there.
Habitat for Humanity is covering the majority of the estimated $220,000 price tag, with the Association providing $15,000 toward the cost. The city's role includes identifying the property to demolish. Mayor Brown added Tuesday that city government has also contributed by changing the rules which previously made it difficult to replace removed structures.
“We have changed the code to be able to build on a smaller lot. In the past in the city of Buffalo, before the Green Code, you had to have at least 50 feet of frontage to build a new property. That's no longer the case,” he said. “Now, if for some reason, an older structure has to be demolished in the neighborhood, we can replace that structure with a structure of the same size.”
Stephanie Barber-Geter, the Association's president, stated that the neighborhood dies a little with every demolition. The pilot program puts city officials in touch with community organizations to make sure a new house is built within a year after the old one is taken down. The program also requires the new structure be consistent with the existing aesthetics of the neighborhood.
"We're trying to get young families, multicultural groups and whoever wants to come live with us, we invite," Barber-Geter said. "If you have not lived in the city, to my friends abroad, where you can get things done, you need to move back home to Buffalo."
Mayor Brown said under his administration, more than 7,500 unrepairable houses have been torn down, and currently fewer than 100 similar properties are listed for demolition. Teresa Bianchi of Habitat for Humanity says while people were told to stay at home over the past year, many were sitting through the pandemic in unsafe housing.
“Either lead, mold, rodents, or overcrowding keeps many families in our city from living safely," she said. "And this change, and all the other changes that Mayor Brown spoke of today, is just the beginning of people living in safe, affordable homes.”
City officials are already working to identify a second property under this pilot program, in the Central Park neighborhood.