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Project tackles housing woes block at a time

State and city housing officials are seeking to restore some of Buffalo's blighted neighborhoods a block at a time.

Officials announced Thursday that the New York State Housing Corp. will commit $3 million to the city for a pilot program that offers partial funding to nonprofit groups to either renovate housing or create more green spaces. The groups would focus on one block before moving to the next.

"We believe that this approach advances [Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's] goal of rebuilding the upstate economy and neighborhoods throughout Western New York," said Priscilla Almodovar, president of New York State Affordable Housing Corp.

Almodovar joined Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, and Richard Tobe, the city's commissioner of economic development, inspections and permits, for a news conference held in a vacant lot at Brayton and West Utica streets.

One block in that neighborhood, just west of Richmond Avenue, will be the first area to be targeted in the program, dubbed "Block-by-Block."

Almodovar said the program's framework came from neighborhood residents and members of nonprofit neighborhood groups.

Among them is Aaron Bartley's group, People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), a nonprofit agency on Buffalo's West Side seeking solutions to the city's abandoned housing crisis.

"This [initiative] came out of a yearlong effort that was focused on abandoned houses that the state controlled and was neglecting," Bartley said.

However, when Spitzer's housing staffers also began looking for answers, Bartley said, they approached PUSH and other community groups for insight.

"It was determined that the single-most important concept in overcoming our crisis is concentrating resources in a strategic way," Bartley said.

What evolved, he said, is a concept that forces nonprofit applicants to come up with a plan that concentrates their resources in a way that leads to a larger impact.

Rehabilitating derelict properties on one block ultimately will lead to the stabilization of adjacent blocks.

The grants will be limited to no more than 60 percent of the cost of renovating a house or building.

Hoyt said the program would be a complement to another program, Restore New York, which provides funding to stem the tide of abandoned housing. Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown estimates about 10,000 abandoned structures in the city need to be demolished.

"But this program, Block-by-Block, is a great concept about building up communities," Hoyt said.

"Buffalo, in so many ways, can be the laboratory exploring new approaches to solving difficult problems, and then we can take these pilot projects and apply them in Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany and Jamestown and Utica, all the other upstate cities that are struggling," he added.

Tobe said initiatives for rehabilitations and mass demolitions will be coordinated through the city's Office of Strategic Planning, the New York Affordable Housing Corp. and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

"We've seen a great deal of investment in parts of the city, certainly in downtown. It's lagging in some of the neighborhoods, and this is a serious step to help with the neighborhoods, also," Tobe added.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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