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City in running for $2 million in housing funds

New York State is entering the final stage of its search for neighborhoods in Buffalo and other upstate cities that can serve as one-of-a-kind models for how to deal with vacant housing.

Gov. David A. Paterson will announce today the availability of $2 million in state housing funds and a process for deciding what upstate communities get a piece of that money for neighborhood demonstration projects.

Among the front-runners is Buffalo's "Green Development Zone," an ambitious new plan for redeveloping a 25-block neighborhood on the city's West Side.

"We see this as a great first step toward supporting our efforts to elevate the concept of strategic investment and sustainable development," said Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, one of the groups involved in the green development zone.

Paterson's top aides said the competition for funding is open to all upstate cities but indicated the enormity of Buffalo's vacant housing crisis makes it a likely candidate for a demonstration project.

"We've been driven by the crisis in Buffalo," said Michael Weber, Paterson's top housing adviser.

State officials stopped short of endorsing the "green development zone" -- one of three Buffalo sites being considered by Paterson -- but indicated a final decision would be announced soon.

"We would love for the West Side or East Side to get one of these projects . . . but they have to compete," said Michael A. Skrebutenas, deputy commissioner of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

There is no guarantee the governor will support the West Side project, but his pledge to create a pilot project in Buffalo gives people hope.

The plan targets an area directly south of West Ferry Street and west of Richmond Avenue, with an eye toward rehabilitating abandoned homes and revitalizing vacant lots and public spaces.

The primary focus is on housing, with plans for a green-designed rehabilitation of about 200 housing units, most of them now vacant.

The West Side is not the only city neighborhood under consideration by the state. The others include the Fruit Belt and the neighborhood near Martin Luther King Park.

State officials were quick to note that the initial $2 million in funding is simply the first piece of a larger pool of funding that will be coming from a wide range of state agencies this year.

From Day One, the Paterson administration has pointed to New York's growing budget deficit and argued that its Sustainable Neighborhoods initiative would have to be financed with existing resources.

"This is the first piece," said Michael Clarke, head of the Buffalo office of Local Initiatives Support Corp., one of the organizations working on the West Side development, "but there's the prospect for more money down the road, and we're encouraged by that."


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