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Another Voice: Developers’ expertise is key to Buffalo’s housing future

By Bob Richardson

Buffalo’s real estate market is on the upswing, in sync with national trends of re-urbanization and mixed-use living environments. With resurgence also comes concern about maintaining balance and affordability. Supply is trailing demand which, along with higher property values and construction costs, is causing rent increases across all classes of housing.

The real estate market in the city is much healthier than it was five years ago. Young people and empty nesters are moving in. They bring energy and vitality that creates jobs and rebuilds neighborhoods, something longed for during Buffalo’s decline. However, Buffalo is still underperforming the vibrant markets around the country while Buffalo’s housing remains substantially more affordable.

The commercial real estate industry believes that residents from all income levels should be able to live affordably within a reasonable distance to employment, amenities and public transportation. No evidence has been presented that demonstrates that any, much less all, areas of Buffalo are prohibitively expensive. A particularly “hot” street, or a few blocks, do not constitute a crisis, nor does it signal “gentrification.”

We believe Buffalo needs a proportionate mix of housing options where quality, price and value are sustainable. However, we are concerned that the facts about the housing market and housing economics in Buffalo must be adequately assembled and analyzed before decisions are made. Otherwise, the resulting public policy could end up producing a housing situation that is neither equitable nor affordable, which has happened in other cities.

A recent study by the International Affordable Housing Survey concluded that Buffalo is the most affordable housing market in the United States. And yet, the inclusionary zoning proposal currently being considered by city officials is the most extreme in the United States – more onerous than those in vibrant cities like Boston, San Francisco or New York City. Buffalo isn’t like these markets, nor is Buffalo likely to become like them. Housing issues in Buffalo, to the extent they exist, need solutions that will work in Buffalo!

The city must implement changes to the composition and mission of the steering committee that is guiding the housing study. Objectivity and integrity are essential to the legislative process. Already, people involved with this issue have committed to solutions that have not been fully analyzed, including policies that could end up discouraging the construction of new units, which will further constrain supply and continue to drive up rents. An issue this important requires an objective analysis and a comprehensive strategy built on best practices, not a rush to judgment.

The commercial real estate industry stands ready to participate in a process that rigorously evaluates all options available to the city. A resolution will depend upon our industry’s detailed market knowledge and ability to produce housing supply. A public policy that includes our input will more likely lead to housing availability and affordability.

Bob Richardson is president of the Commercial Real Estate Association (NAIOP), Upstate New York Chapter.

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