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Abandoned buildings spark Council anger

One lawmaker called it an embarrassment to America. Another suggested it's a federal disaster. And still another blamed it on decades of self-serving leadership.

Common Council members, angry and frustrated, vented Tuesday over the pace of housing demolitions in a city with more than 10,000 abandoned buildings.

"We're never going to get caught up in our lifetime," Council President David A. Franczyk said of the roughly 1,500 demolitions planned for this year.

Lawmakers, the recent tragedy involving a Buffalo firefighter still fresh in their minds, wondered aloud if others might fall victim to the arson, vandalism and violent crime often connected to abandoned structures.

"How many more freak accidents are out there?" asked South Council Member Michael Kearns.

Kearns was referring to Mark Reed, the city firefighter seriously injured last week while fighting a fire at an abandoned house on Wende Street.

And Kearns wasn't alone in using a Council committee meeting to lash out at a system that many believe is destined to fail because of the huge number of buildings -- some think it could be closer to 20,000 -- in need of demolition.

The only solution, lawmakers suggested, is a huge influx of money from either Albany or Washington, D.C.

"I think it's a federal disaster," Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio said of the blight concentrated on the East Side but spreading throughout the city.

One lawmaker went so far as to suggest that city and state leaders contributed to the problem through inaction. He reminded his colleagues of a news conference last year at which state lawmakers announced $8 million in new funding for demolitions.

"They stood there and patted themselves on the back and said $8 million is on the way," said North Council Member Joseph Golombek. "Well, the money's still not here."

A state spokesman said earlier this year Albany was waiting for the city to comply with all of the requirements before the $8 million could be released.

The Council's frustration with the pace of demolitions became evident as members debated the city's use of $10 million in efficiency grant money from the state. Many seemed angry that none of it was going to tear down dilapidated buildings in the city.

"Every discretionary penny should be going into tearing down these houses," said Franczyk.

Several lawmakers pointed to the huge price tag facing Buffalo -- the city could spend more than $100 million on demolitions in the next 10 years -- and suggested the city form its own demolition teams as a quicker and cheaper alternative to hiring private contractors.

A top aide to Mayor Byron W. Brown said the administration is already looking at that option.

"We've been having some conversations internally about the possibility of creating a demolition team," Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa told the Council.

Penksa said the creation of a city demolition team may not prove cost-effective but the city will study the idea.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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