Safeguarding against gentrification, city seeks to protect residents near Medical Campus before a spike - The Buffalo News

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Safeguarding against gentrification, city seeks to protect residents near Medical Campus before a spike

Buffalo is considering following the lead of other cities to find a way to protect longtime residents from being gentrified out of their homes.

The immediate concern in Buffalo is the Fruit Belt, which is expected to see significant spikes in property values in upcoming years as the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus – just west of the neighborhood – takes off.

But any legislation being considered could become a model for any other city neighborhood threatened by gentrification, as well.

Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen on Thursday introduced a resolution that is expected to be the first step in a process that could end with the city freezing or reducing assessments for a specified period for some financially strapped, longtime Fruit Belt homeowners if, as expected, property values in the neighborhood spike.

Pridgen’s resolution would determine what residents would like to see done to ward off gentrification, by asking a Fruit Belt Advisory Committee to make recommendations on the issue. He also is asking city lawyers to find out what the city can – and cannot – legally do under state law.

“Would we need to seek changes or a waiver to current state law?” he asked. “I want to examine what state law might have to be addressed that would block the city from considering freezing the taxes for a limited amount on long-term owner occupants.”

Gentrification is the movement of wealthier residents into an urban area, often resulting in improvements, more development and increased real estate values. Sometimes longtime residents can no longer afford their rent or taxes, and are forced to move or sell their homes.

Houses in the Fruit Belt, considered one of Buffalo’s poorer neighborhoods, typically sell for as low as $8,000. While average sale prices have not increased much recently, interest in the neighborhood has been picking up as the Medical Campus has continued to take hold.

A couple of private investors purchased a handful of Fruit Belt houses in the last year, and Pridgen said an increasing number of developers have been contacting City Hall.

Some developers are looking for homes they can purchase, demolish and replace with new, market-rate houses, Pridgen said. Some residents also are expressing an interest in selling if they can make a big-enough profit, he said.

The speculation has created concern that the neighborhood will eventually outprice some of its residents.

“We have to make a move before it is too late,” Pridgen said.

Fruit Belt community leaders welcome Pridgen’s resolution. “It’s really awesome he is doing it,” said Veronica Hemphill Nichols, a neighborhood resident and community activist. “That is one of the issues raised.”

“It’s a good idea,” said Harvill Hill, another community leader.

The Brown administration had no comment on Pridgen’s proposal.

“The resolution is being reviewed by the administration,” Michael J. DeGeorge, a spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown, said in an email.

The administration has previously said that it is aware of residents’ concerns over gentrification but felt that the low-income rental townhomes being built in the Fruit Belt, with support from the city, would help keep property values in check. Most of the low-income townhomes have been built by St. John Baptist Church.

But Fruit Belt residents felt that their community was getting saturated with the low-income rentals and became concerned that rentals aren’t as good for a neighborhood as market-rate owner-occupied homes.

Based on the residents’ concerns, the church agreed not to build any more of the low-income rentals once its current construction phase is completed.

Buffalo’s interest in gentrification laws comes at a time when similar initiatives are planned and under way in other cities across the country.

Boston, for example, which studies have found is facing the most gentrification pressure in the nation, has approved legislation allowing some longtime homeowners to defer part of their property tax increases until they sell their homes. The bill was approved by the Boston City Council but now needs state approval.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, since at least 2000 has allowed homeowners in neighborhoods identified as being gentrified, and who have owned a home for a least 10 years, to apply for a tax reduction when their assessment increases by more than 5 percent over the previous year.

Philadelphia, which is in the midst of an urban resurgence, last year enacted a measure called LOOP – Longtime Owner Occupants Program – that generally caps and freezes assessments for 10 years for longtime homeowners meeting certain income guidelines if their assessments increase by more than 300 percent.

The Philadelphia program has been praised as one of the most effective among large urban centers, but it also has come under criticism for doing more to help those at the upper end of the income scale than those at the lower end.

Pridgen’s resolution will likely be considered Tuesday by the Council, which can either vote on it or send it to a committee for further review.

If approved, the resolution asks the Law Department to report back to the Council by April 15, and the Advisory Committee to report to the Council by June 3.


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