A proposal to provide federal funds for municipalities to rebuild and rehabilitate vacant homes deserves strong support here. Older cities such as Buffalo, and older suburbs such as Cheektowaga, are vulnerable to the spread of blight. A trip through the East Side and just across the city line offers ample evidence that the threat is real.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins propose a Community Regeneration Act, with the support of Mayor Byron W. Brown and various other elected officials, that would provide help. A three-year, $300 million demonstration grant program to help 15 large and 15 small cities deal with vacancy issues offers a chance to develop projects here.
There's no problem, unfortunately, in documenting the need. Buffalo has nearly 12,000 structures awaiting either rehabilitation or demolition. And, as Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz told a reporter, " . . . the problem has now spread beyond the urban core and into the first-ring suburbs."
The Community Regeneration Act could be a valuable way to reinvigorate our aging city and first-ring suburbs. Its proposed three-year demonstration program would authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide grants of up to $250,000 to communities to help fund the planning and development process and it would establish a Federal Interagency Regeneration Communities Coordinating Council for oversight.
Just in the past three years, Buffalo has removed 1,700 vacant buildings. The city wants to demolish another 3,000 in the next three years, as part of a comprehensive demolition project. Both Buffalo and Cheektowaga require a big-picture approach that retains a historical perspective, targets such work carefully and improves future planning. Funding this proposal would give leaders a better chance at taking a wider approach rather than relying on piecemeal, funds-available attacks on just the worst of the blight.
There are costs to blight in lost taxes, neighborhood decay, housing-stock depreciation, debris removal, inspections and policing. And there are quality-of-life issues, with many neighborhoods plagued by an increase in crimes from arson to drug dealing. This proposal warrants support as a way to breathe new life into aging cities.