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City should welcome the Bangladeshis quietly reviving blighted neighborhoods

The Bangladeshis migrating to Buffalo’s East Side by the hundreds are pursuing the American dream.

They’re working and putting in sweat equity and most of their savings in order to establish homes and raise their families. There is no other response than to welcome them, and ask what help they need as they upgrade some of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods.

News business reporter Emma Sapong spent months researching and understanding a growing community that is already having a major impact on the city.

These are not refugees who receive government help to resettle, but immigrants choosing to come here from New York City, where rents are stratospheric and living is hard. In the Broadway-Fillmore area, for example, they have found rock-bottom prices for homes, some of which used to go for about $1,000 and now, because of this Bangladeshi migration, can reach $40,000 to $50,000 or more during the city’s tax foreclosure auctions.

Lured by some of Buffalo’s cheap housing and armed with cash from savings or selling New York City property or businesses back in their homeland, these newcomers are running up home prices to levels not seen in many decades, but they are also creating safer neighborhoods with hardworking residents. Crime has gone down in the most crime-ridden areas, as much as 70 percent where the Bangladeshis settled. On Loepere Street, where 80 homes are owned by Bangladeshis, criminal activity has decreased by 64 percent.

In the Broadway-Fillmore, Genesee-Moselle, Fillmore-Leroy and Kensington neighborhoods and beyond, parents, grandparents and kids on bicycles have replaced drug pushers and prostitutes.

The transformation has occurred over the past few years as hundreds of Bangladeshi families moved to Buffalo – the Census Bureau’s latest estimate is 316, although Sapong’s reporting revealed the number to be significantly higher. Liberty Yellow Taxi alone has more than 367 Bangladeshi drivers. One community leader estimates that at least 1,000 to 1,500 Bangladeshi families are living in the city. They are settling largely on the East Side, with about 20 families on the Lower West Side.

The homes they are buying don’t come in move-in condition. There are usually dilapidated properties that once seemed primed for the wrecking ball. They are being rehabbed by Bangladeshis, many with the skills to do the work themselves and the will to pour tens of thousands of dollars into these projects. They turn vacant lots into large gardens.

Many of the Bangladeshi arrivals are devout Sunni Muslims. They move where the mosques are, and build new ones where there are none.

The new neighbors from South Asia have been busy building roots in the community, fixing up houses and opening new retail businesses, halal markets, restaurants, a driving school and a barbershop. And paying taxes.

Remarkably, considering all the good they are doing in the city, they have been flying under the radar of some city officials. That is now changing.

The Bangladeshis weren’t recruited to come to Buffalo. They did so willingly, based on word-of-mouth recommendations that life here is good. It is good, and getting better. The community should open its arms to the new arrivals and help them as they transform blighted areas into safe and prosperous neighborhoods.