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Lawmakers describe plan for aid to restore housing Schumer, Higgins ready bill to fight vacancy problems

Sen. Charles E. Schumer picked a well-maintained Cheektowaga side street Monday to illustrate how one abandoned home can affect an entire neighborhood.

"It becomes an eyesore," Schumer said in front of a vacant property at 233 Alaska St. "And pretty soon, a beautiful block like this can go down the drain."

Schumer appeared with Rep. Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron W. Brown and other officials to promote a proposal to provide federal funds for municipalities such as Buffalo and Cheektowaga to rebuild and rehabilitate vacant homes. With almost 12,000 structures in Buffalo alone awaiting rehabilitation or demolition, Schumer and company pronounced the program critical to the area's rejuvenation.

"The vacant-housing crisis chokes rejuvenation, drags down property values in both the city and the suburbs, and puts a drain on our local resources," Schumer said. "This bill will deliver additional funds to the region and start to implement new strategies to combat the vacant-housing blight."

The senator said he and Higgins will introduce legislation that will establish a three-year, $300 million demonstration project to help 15 large and 15 small cities deal with vacancy issues.

The program would include establishing or expanding local regional land banks, demolishing abandoned properties and developing comprehensive plans to deal with vacant properties.

"Brian Higgins and I will fight to make sure Buffalo is one of those cities," he said. "And because we are proposing it, that's usually how it works."

Their Community Regeneration Act would provide funding for what they said is a real problem in older cities such as Buffalo. Along with Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz, they noted the problem has now spread beyond the urban core into first-ring suburbs.

"The Town of Cheektowaga does not have as serious a problem as the City of Buffalo," Holtz said, "but we are starting to have it."

Schumer said that, because of the Obama administration's commitment to new, urban-oriented programs, he is encouraged about prospects for the new program. The president, he noted, has just established an office headed by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion to oversee urban policy, while Shaun Donovan, the new secretary of housing and urban development, also is a New Yorker.

"This administration is interested in problems like this," Schumer said. "I think we can get this done."

"It's good in the politics, and it's good on the merits," Higgins added.

Brown, meanwhile, noted that in the last three years, Buffalo alone has removed 1,700 vacant structures and looks to tear down another 3,000 in the next three years. He also said Buffalo and Cheektowaga have submitted a joint application for neighborhood stabilization programs.

"There is an opportunity as one community -- city and suburbs -- to work together on this tremendous problem we have in the community," the mayor said.

Also attending Monday's event were County Legislators Timothy M. Kennedy of Buffalo and Robert B. Reynolds of Hamburg, and Michael Clarke, program director of the Buffalo office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a not-for-profit group that helps revitalize neighborhoods.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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