In 2005, the median household income in Buffalo was $27,311, and about 37 percent of Buffalo’s children lived in poverty.
It was also the year before Mayor Byron W. Brown took office for his first of three terms.
On the campaign trail looking to claim four more years, Brown touts frozen or reduced taxes, economic development throughout the city and a reduction in violent crime.
But how has the city really changed under 12 years of Brown’s leadership? Where did Buffalo stand the year before he took office, and where does it stand now?
A Buffalo News analysis found that the city is no worse off in the years since the Brown administration began in 2006. In categories such as population change, a mayor may have relatively little or no control, compared to categories like the size of the city budget and tax rates. But budgets, taxes and other things a mayor has direct control over can mold the perception of a city as a good or lousy place to live, thus impacting other categories that cities get rated in as voters assess how Brown has done over three terms.
Even though Amherst – at $9.871 billion – is worth more than Buffalo, the city’s assessed value increased 46.79 percent to $8.388 billion. That increase is beyond the rate of inflation. In fact, if the city had grown just by the rate of inflation, it would be valued at only $6.939 million now.
While growing in assessed value, Buffalo has not been growing in population. The city’s head count decreased 7.59 percent from 2005 to 2016. The U.S. population grew by 9.34 percent over the same time, while New York State grew by about 3.4 percent.
The number of homes sold in Buffalo also started to decline around 2006, though the numbers began to rebound in 2013 and have been increasing since – though not nearly enough to reach pre-Brown levels. Experts say that could be explained by factors ranging from the 2008 housing crisis to a growing market for upscale rental housing.
"Real estate floored after the recession, and credit tightened. Then others had a harder time qualifying for loans," said Robert Silverman, a University at Buffalo professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.
Meanwhile, though the increase in median sales price is impressive, it is not occurring all over the city, but in select parts along the waterfront and "in the area sandwiched between North Buffalo, Main Street and Richmond Avenue," said Henry L. Taylor Jr., director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies.
The city’s focus on demolishing blighted properties – which took some of the lower-value units off the market – and the conversion of multifamily homes into single-family houses also meant there were about 12,000 fewer housing units in the city from 2006 to 2016, according to U.S. Census data, Silverman said. Rehab and new construction haven't kept up with that loss of units, he said, a gap that has contributed to higher-priced housing.
Good management (with Albany’s help)?
Since taking office in 2006, Brown has frozen or cut property taxes every year. In addition, the tax levy – the amount raised through property taxes – also has decreased. And while state aid to the city grew over the years, it accounts for virtually the same percentage of the city budget as when Brown took office. However, the growth in state aid did outpace inflation. If Albany had been only generous enough to match the inflation rate, Buffalo would have gotten only $152.7 million this year instead of the $161.2 million it actually is receiving.
Residents may need those tax cuts, however, because Buffalo’s median household income rose at slightly below the rate of inflation from 2005 to 2015.
The city’s unemployment rate also hit double digits a few years ago before declining; it is now just slightly above the 7 percent mark of July 2005. However, Buffalo’s unemployment rate remains significantly higher than the U.S. rate of 4.3 percent in July.
One area of clear improvement is in the number of violent crimes, which dropped from 3,938 in 2005 to 2,887 in 2015. That translates into a per capita decrease of 19.53 percent, which outpaced Rochester’s 5.57 percent decline in violent crimes per 100,000 but lagged behind Syracuse’s 27.61 percent improvement. And despite the improvement, Buffalo’s overall rate remains significantly higher than the rates in each of those cities.