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City forms partnership for rehab plan

In Ishmail Johnson's Plymouth Avenue neighborhood, the street is dotted with decaying, vacant buildings.

And the city owns many of the blighted structures.

Johnson joined about 20 other West Side residents Wednesday at a news conference where Mayor Byron W. Brown pledged to help rehabilitate 500 vacant housing units within five years.

The administration has been criticized by some who think the city has put too much emphasis on demolitions and not enough on rehabilitating structures.

Brown's commitment to work with community partners to rehabilitate 100 vacant units each year for the next five years is a big step forward, Johnson said.

"It's overdue," he said as he stood in front of an empty eyesore on Massachusetts Avenue. "It's probably not enough, but it's a wonderful start."

East Side resident Grady Davis is pleased that the plan also includes a provision that would aim to hire city residents for at least half of the jobs that are linked to future housing rehabilitation projects.

"You're putting properties back on the tax rolls and putting people back to the work at the same time. It's a good deal," Davis said.

Brown is hoping that a partnership announced Wednesday will serve as a model for future rehab initiatives. The mayor said he will ask the Common Council to designate PUSH Buffalo, a not-for-profit housing advocacy group, as the redeveloper of two city-owned properties on Massachusetts Avenue.

In the past, PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) officials have been among those who prodded the city to make housing rehabilitation a greater priority. They said plans to tear down 1,000 blighted buildings each year over five years must include a meaningful rehabilitation component.

Zoe Hollomon, who chairs PUSH's board of directors, praised the city's commitment to transform hundreds of empty structures.

"It's a great way to start the rebirth of our city," she said.

By designating PUSH as the redeveloper of 397 and 398 Massachusetts Ave., the city would provide assistance with rehabilitation. For example, the city could earmark some funds it receives from the state and federal governments.

Brown said he's not worried that the current global economic crisis will trigger draconian cuts in state and federal assistance programs. He said Gov. David A. Paterson recently stated that even in the most challenging times, investments must be made to move communities forward.

PUSH Executive Director Aaron Bartley said he's hopeful the two structures will be renovated and converted into affordable housing by next autumn.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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