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Train tracks cut Koons Avenue in half.

There's a bad side of the tracks.

And a worse side.

The bad side starts on Genesee Street, has 45 abandoned houses and vacant lots as well as 2-year-old athletic fields already sporting crooked goal posts and missing nets on the tennis and basketball courts.

The worse side ends at Broadway, a shorter stretch where 37 vacant houses and lots outnumber occupied homes, and where the streetscape includes mothers walking their kids home from school and young men drinking beer and tossing dice between parked cars.

It's a street where the median home sale price is $1,000.

Where authorities since 2000 hauled the owners of a quarter of the properties into Housing Court.

And where more than 300 crimes were reported from 2000 to 2003 -- on a street that has about 110 occupied houses.

All in a neighborhood that's lost half its population since 1960, and where 40 percent of those left behind live in poverty, partly because high school dropouts outnumber college graduates by an almost 10-to-1 ratio.

Koons Avenue is the kind of place federal lawmakers had in mind 30 years ago when they created the Community Development Block Grant program to fight blight and poverty.

But you won't find much evidence of the $556 million in block grant funds Uncle Sam has sent to Buffalo over the past three decades.

"Ain't seen it here, that's for sure," said Rob Bulera, who has lived at 212 Koons Ave. for all but a handful of his 34 years.

"Where's the new homes, where's the new sidewalks, where's the cutting of the lots?" said Tony Archuleta, who lives at 50 Koons Ave.

The only block grant funds city officials can identify as being spent directly on Koons Avenue over the years involve rehabilitation loans for 10 houses -- nine of which were written prior to 1992. There has been no other block grant funded housing initiatives. No capital improvements. No crime prevention programs.

"There's only so much block grant money, and too many holes in the dike," said Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who has represented Koons Avenue as Fillmore District representative for 17 years.

There's some indirect spending, as a handful of agencies provide housing and human services programs -- youth and senior activities chief among them -- that Koons Avenue residents can use. But two of the handful of agencies that serve the area have lost block grant aid in the last two years because city officials were dissatisfied with their performance.

The failure to use block grant funds is just one of the ways the city has failed the residents of Koons Avenue.

The city has, for example, dumped run-down Koons Avenue housing on the real estate market. Buffalo, along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, took title to and sold 17 properties -- nearly one-third of the homes and lots sold on the street this decade -- for an average $1,180.

The city also failed to pitch in when others invested in the neighborhood.

The Board of Education is wrapping up a $22 million renovation to the former Emerson High School, whose freshly paved driveway sits across the street from two abandoned houses on Koons Avenue.

"That one has burned a couple of times," said Bulera, who lives eight doors away. "I think there's a gopher living there. It's too big to be a rat."

Behind the school sits a football field that the National Football League's Community Football program contributed $100,000 to rebuild three years ago. The NFL's involvement was contingent on the city spending $142,000 for other improvements, including a field house and concession stand to serve the Buffalo Raiders, a youth football organization serving the neighborhood.

The city hasn't lived up to its end of the deal, building a picnic shelter instead. While the football field remains in good shape, the goal posts at one end are crooked. The adjoining baseball field is badly rutted and the playground has fallen into disrepair. The main basketball court is splashed with shattered glass; rusted, broken chain nets dangle from the rims.

"They did a nice job, but it is falling apart now. The fences are gone, nobody's come to fix it," said Bulera, who lives across the street.

The Local Initiatives Support Corp., which handles the program for the NFL, has since told the city it will no longer consider applications from Buffalo. Meanwhile, this year an NFL grant went to upgrade a football field in Lackawanna.

"(Local Initiatives Support Corp.), the NFL and the parents all did their part. The city dropped the ball," said Michael K. Clarke, program director of the corporation's local office.

Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra said he didn't know why the field house wasn't built when the field was reconstructed, but that the city has earmarked bond money to complete the work.

"We had planned to spend the money this past construction season, but the control board and comptroller didn't approve any capital spending for parks," he said.

The lack of spending is par for the course. Bruce A. Williams, executive director of Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services, said city officials nixed a proposal from his agency several years ago to include Koons Avenue in a list of targeted streets. Williams said he was told the neighborhood was too far gone.

"They preferred to invest in other areas," he said.

Even money for demolitions and housing rehabilitation is tough to come by.

"I can do all the concentrated code enforcement I want, but if there is no money to demolish properties or to loan to make repairs, where do we go?" said Louis Petrucci, the city's chief building inspector.

Little wonder Koons Avenue residents express frustration and a sense of abandonment.

James and Alice Chandler bought their Koons Avenue house in 1974, and in the past decade have seen the neighborhood come down -- literally.

Three houses next door have been demolished, as were three others across the street. Chandler, meanwhile, cuts the grass on three lots next door after the city stopped maintaining them about three years ago, he said.

Mrs. Chandler has been to Housing Court twice trying to get one more abandoned house kitty-corner from hers knocked down, but so far, it's still standing -- graffiti and all.

The street got resurfaced a couple of months ago, the first time it's been done in 30 years, Mrs. Chandler said. She's still waiting for the city to plant a tree, as promised, to replace one crews cut down seven or eight years ago.

"We never get anything done on this side of town," she said.

At the opposite end of the street, Archuleta expresses the same frustration. The 33-year-old home repairman has vacant houses on either side and two across the street. One is suspected of having asbestos shingles.

"They said they were going to knock it down two months ago, but they never came back," he said. "The only way to get houses torn down is if someone torches them."

"It's forgotten over here," he added.

Koons is not the only street abandoned by City Hall, said Marlies A. Wesolowski, executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center, 1081 Broadway.

"It's all over the East Side, which has not historically received its fair share of block grant funds," she said.

Wesolowski's agency now handles housing programs in the Fillmore District, and she said the amount of money she has to work with is a pittance. She said she's gotten enough money to buy, rehabilitate and sell eight houses this year in a target area that takes in about 15 blocks.

"It's not enough," she said.

Politicians have spread money around to so many organizations that it is too small to make a difference, she said. Franczyk, the district's Council member, doesn't dispute this.

"I made sure everybody got a little bit, but maybe that's not the right approach," he said. "That little bit wasn't enough to save the whole."

That leaves people like the Chandlers to deal with the consequences. Mrs. Chandler is working with a neighbor to start a block club. Her husband keeps cutting the lots next door.

They stay, he said, "because it's home."

"You never win by running," he said.

Down the street, Rob Bulera looked around at the vacant lots and boarded-up houses and grumbled about City Hall.

"You have to wonder if they know what they're doing," he said.

News researcher Andrew Bailey contributed to this report

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