The apartment complex, located on Niagara Street just a short walk from Niagara Square, is scheduled for demolition this spring. But there's one last holdout living at the Shoreline Apartments and local activists on Monday rallied on his behalf, accusing the developer and public officials of gentrifying a downtown neighborhood at the expense of longtime, low-income residents.
That tenant, identified as John Schmidt, was appearing in Buffalo Housing Court as activists stood inside the hallway of the mostly-abandoned apartment building. The concrete, angled building is scheduled for demolition in the spring to make way for new construction.
It's the latest building to be removed on a block where redeveloped housing now exists a short walk away, on the corner of Niagara and Carolina Streets. Other nearby complexes, activists say, are due for redevelopment but will come at the expense of longtime residents forced to move.
"We're all here to make a statement about this process that has taken over Buffalo," said John Washington, one of those present to speak in defense of Schmidt. "We're seeing it start in Pine Harbor, and Willert Park and other parts of the city where (Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority) is intentionally being collapsed so that private developers can take over public housing, gentifying displaced people."
Activists referred to redevelopment of Shoreline Apartments as "renoviction." A representative of Norstar, the developer behind the project, says that's not what is happening.
Linda Goodman, senior vice president at Norstar, declined to be interviewed for broadcast but told WBFO for the record that the neighborhood in which Shoreline stands is not being gentrified. Rather, she said, the apartments are being replaced by updated affordable housing units that will be overseen by New York State Homes and Community Renewal.
Goodman also told WBFO Norstar has, for several years, held meetings and provided affected residents with information and assistance with relocation.
When asked about Schmidt, Goodman replied he had been offered numerous opportunities to relocate over the past several months and, because of a subsidy for which he is eligible, is protected from rent increases. They have also, she said, offered him a hotel room in which to stay.
Activists on the scene, though, say hundreds of families have suffered by being forced out of their longtime neighborhood. Jennifer Mecozzi, who represents the West District on the Buffalo Board of Education, says some of her own family have been affected. She also took aim at the public powers-that-be who have complied with redevelopment, arguing that many public school children face an additional obstacle in a troubled school system because the future of their homes is in doubt.
"This is ridiculous and the children are suffering as well as everybody else," Mecozzi said. "But then the children become the reason that Buffalo Public Schools aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing. Make up your minds, do you want the best for the children in this district?"