In my monitoring of unconsciencably costly, failed housing policy in Bflo, I had missed the unbelievable $180K/house subsidies on the Matt Urban Center sponsored newbuilds in Fillmore Dist (on top of incredibly costly "Sickamore Village" . . . & $36.5 million of $180,000 apartments for the single-elderly proposed by BMHA, to be built by a member of the Control Bd to replace a defunct bowling alley at Main & Amherst)


"The City’s CAPER reports $3,498,404 in funding for 26 homes in Willert
Park: a remarkable subsidy level of $134,554 per home. Even more surprisingly,
the City reports giving a subsidy of $180,000 per home for 10 homes on Sweet Street developed by the Matt Urban Center: this in city with a median home value of about $60,000. Each family who moves into one of these new homes will be leaving another home in Buffalo behind"

Here is the rest of the important March 7 document from an alliance of over 40 respected civic organizations, named Partnership for the Public Good.

Has the city ever responded to this important letter sent over 4 months ago?

More to come.

Subj: Partnership for the Public Good: March 7 letter to T. Wanamaker, Deput-Mayor Donna Brown

Bflo News investigative reporter James Heaney just published a link to this important letter sent on March 7 by the Partnership for the Public Good.

[I]See: (A PUSH for housing reform, July 9, 2008)

The letter is an important base for reform of dramatically failed housing policy in Bflo. Has the requested meeting with Wanamaker or Donna Brown ever occurred? What is the status of these recommendations currently?

Partnership for the Public Good (PPG)
Steering Committee
■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
Anthony Armstrong, LISC Buffalo
Aaron Bartley, PUSH Buffalo
Allison Duwe, Coalition for Economic Justice
Lou Jean Fleron, Cornell University ILR School
Nancy Freeland, VOICE Buffalo
Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Ujima Company
Amy Kedron, Buffalo First!
Sam Magavern, University at Buffalo Law School
William O’Connell, Homeless Alliance of WNY
Susan Swarts, Cornell University ILR School
■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
March 7, 2008
TO: Donna Brown, Deputy Mayor
Timothy Wanamaker, Director, Office of Strategic Planning
City of Buffalo, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202

Re: 2008-2009 Action Plan

Dear Ms. Brown and Mr. Wanamaker:

I am writing on behalf of the Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) to comment
on the City of Buffalo’s 08-09 Action Plan Recommendation. PPG is a new
collaboration promoting a revitalized, sustainable Buffalo through research and
advocacy. Our 2008 Platform has been endorsed by over 30 organizations,
including Belmont Shelter, Catholic Charities, Community Action, Cornell
University ILR School, PUSH Buffalo, the Homeless Alliance of Western New
York, and the Center for Urban Studies.(NOTE: A copy of our platform and the list of endorsing organizations is enclosed. For PPG reports, policy statements, and other information, please visit

The PPG Platform includes the following statement on housing:

City of Buffalo, Erie County, and New York State. Work with the
university and non-profit communities to develop a Regional Real
Property Intelligence Network and a strategic, block-by-block
housing plan incorporating foreclosure and abandonment
prevention, with specific goals for weatherization, green rehab, reuse,
demolition, deconstruction, the creative re-use of vacant lots
and incorporating job opportunities for disadvantaged city residents,
including youth.

Regarding the Action Plan, we offer the following comments.
Citizen Participation

We would like to work with you to develop a system of more meaningful citizen
public participation in the Action Plan / CAPER process. For example, we would
like to help you make (or add to) a list of interested organizations and individuals
to be sent notices of public hearings well in advance of the hearings.

Numeric Goals and Information
The plan lacks specific goals and strategies to meet those goals. For example,
how many new units of housing will be built, how many rehabilitated, how many
deconstructed, and how many demolished? What income levels will they serve?
How much total funding will go toward home ownership, and how much toward
rental? How much toward preservation, and how much toward new
construction? What is the role of each of the various non-profit agencies funded
in meeting these goals? How much of the housing rehab and construction will be
publicly funded, and how much privately?

Administration and Program Delivery Costs

A huge percentage of our federal funds never leave City Hall. Surprisingly few
dollars make it out into the community in the form of grants and loans. It is not
possible from the Action Plan or the CAPER to get a good picture of how the
administration and program delivery funds are being spent. For example, what
salaries are being paid? What results are those staff people delivering? What
other expenses are being paid with federal funds? For example, why does
homeowner assistance require $580,724 in salaries and fringe benefits? Why do
rehabilitation activities require $1,052,074 in program delivery costs? How do
these costs compare to those of other cities?

According to HUD’s CDBG Performance Profile for Buffalo’s 05-06 program year,
only 0.07% of the CDBG beneficiaries were extremely low income. The 08-09
Action Plan, like its predecessors, focuses surprisingly few resources on those in
serious poverty. It is vital to target funding toward those with the lowest incomes,
not only because they need it the most, but also because, if their housing and
service needs are not addressed, the results (such as homelessness, missed
school, unemployment, crime, etc.) are very expensive for the City as a whole.
Inadequate Funding for Affordable Rental Housing
One reason that so few people with extremely low incomes benefit from the
City’s programs is that the City does so little for rental housing, which is where
the vast majority of people with extremely low incomes live. The entire $23.8
million Action Plan offers almost nothing to preserve, weatherize, and rehabilitate
our affordable rental housing – which should be the highest priority in a City with
29.9% living under the poverty line and over 2,000 homeless each night.
It is disappointing that spending on investor owned rehabilitation drops from
$1,559,331 in 2007-2008 to $750,000 in 2008-2009, while the budget for new
homeowner units remains at $1 million and “Program Delivery Homeownership
Assistance” rises from $556,358 to $580,724, among many other funding
streams dedicated to homeownership. We also note that the City’s 2006-2007
CAPER reports that of the 136 units of rental housing for people with disabilities
planned, zero were built.
In addition, the CAPER reports no progress toward the goal of rehabilitating the
city’s public housing stock, and reports that the City has reduced its goal of
developing 20 units of public housing to 6 units. We do not find any mention of
even this goal in the Action Plan. Public housing is a vital way to bring federal
funding to the city and make our housing more affordable. (NOTE: It is odd that the City’s comprehensive plan calls for reducing the number of public housing units from 7,000 to 5,000; why would the City want to throw away 2,000 federal housing subsidies?)
While large-scale public housing projects have fallen out of favor, Buffalo has an endless number
of abandoned units that could be preserved and rehabilitated for scattered site public housing.

Giving Priority to Preservation and Weatherization
Given Buffalo’s still rapidly-declining population and spiraling crisis of abandoned
housing, it makes no sense for the City to continue heavily subsidizing the new
construction of homeowner units in locations like Sycamore Village and Willert
Park. The City’s CAPER reports $3,498,404 in funding for 26 homes in Willert
Park: a remarkable subsidy level of $134,554 per home. Even more surprisingly,
the City reports giving a subsidy of $180,000 per home for 10 homes on Sweet
Street developed by the Matt Urban Center: this in city with a median home value
of about $60,000. Each family who moves into one of these new homes will be
leaving another home in Buffalo behind. It makes far more sense to spend our
money preserving and renovating the units we have – many of them fine old
buildings that give the City its historic character.
To the extent that we spend money supporting homeownership, we should spend
it preserving existing homes and homeownership, rather than on new homes and
new homeowners. Weatherization is a proven way to dramatically lower utility
bills and thus help homeowners keep their homes. Existing weatherization
programs receive no city funding and have long waiting lists.
A small rehab loan or grant is often all that is needed to keep a home from the
downward spiral of disinvestment. Buffalo also needs an effective foreclosure
prevention program that includes cash assistance as well as financial counseling.
We should also look at programs from other cities that have proven successful in
combating predatory lending.
(NOTE: The City’s 2006-2007 CAPER states that the City funded the Urban League to conduct anti-predatory lending activities but gives no information about what those activities were or what results were obtained).
It is much more efficient to save our existing
homes and homeowners than to let them be lost and then try to replace them
with new homes and new homeowners.

Greening the Action Plan
Although the City’s Comprehensive Plan puts a high priority on environmental
issues, the Action Plan contains no environmental programming: no dedicated
funds, for example, for green construction, green rehab, energy efficiency, home
conservation, storm/sewer overflow reduction, etc. Although Buffalo committed
itself to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, the City has apparently
made no concerted effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The Plan
makes no mention of using green criteria to evaluate funding requests, as the
State of New York does in its affordable housing programs.

Sealing, Deconstruction, and DemolitionThe Plan does not commit enough resources to Buffalo’s abandoned housing
crisis, nor does it demonstrate a long-range, strategic approach to that crisis.
Given the enormous governmental and social costs imposed by abandoned
houses, it is much more cost effective to deal with them quickly rather than letting
them linger. While the City has stepped up its pace of demolitions, a more
intensive and more careful strategy is required. In terms of funding, it makes no
sense to be putting $180,000 per unit into the construction of new homes when
we have thousands of abandoned homes that need to be sealed, preserved
where possible, and deconstructed or demolished where necessary.
It is our understanding that the City under-funds its sealing efforts, with two bad
results: (i) only first-floor windows are sealed, allowing upper floor broken
windows to let in rain, snow, and, in some cases, intruders; (ii) an inexpensive
and flimsy method is used to seal lower-floors, with the result that intruders can
easily pry off boards. This “penny-wise, pound-foolish” approach means that
many units are lost that could have been saved and that the City ends up losing
money through demolition and other costs.
We also urge the City to continue its progress toward deconstructing instead of
demolishing units wherever possible. Buffalo should emulate Chicago and other
cities which have mandatory recycling of 25 to 50% of building materials from
demolitions. Buffalo should create a protocol for determining how much of a
given house should be deconstructed and recycled rather than demolished.
The City mentions in its CAPER a targeted demolition policy; however, we have
never seen a written policy explaining the City’s priorities for demolition, nor have
we seen evidence of such a policy on the ground. It still appears that the City
demolishes many homes that could be preserved, and that the City does not
proceed block by block in its demolitions and its housing investments in a way
that would maximize their effect. While the university and non-profit communities
are eager to help the City in this effort, they have had a hard time establishing a
fruitful collaboration.

Buffalo needs a clearly articulated housing plan with measurable goals and
detailed strategies for reaching those goals. Such a plan should devote the most
resources to our greatest problems: extreme poverty, housing abandonment, and
environmental degradation. Buffalo’s Action Plan, in both substance and format,
should reflect those goals and clear, efficient, non-duplicative ways to achieve
them. We would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss
how we can help the City work toward these goals.
Thank you.

Sincerely, Sam Magavern
Partnership for the Public Good