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Another Voice: New fellowship will help to meet growing, urgent need in New York

By Jolie A. Milstein and Steven J. Weiss

Rising rent, stagnant wages and fewer affordable homes have forced many upstate families to settle for substandard housing or forgo everyday expenses, like groceries and prescriptions, to make rent.

In Erie County, nearly half of all renters are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. The lack of decent, affording housing is the tipping point that can turn low-income families into homeless families.

Although Buffalo has received increased state investment in recent years, more must be done to make neighborhoods livable and foster economic development.

To meet the growing demand for more affordable housing, our industry needs to identify, train and assist the next generation of housing experts. The health of our communities depends on developing a pipeline of skilled future leaders who can meet challenges head-on and provide innovative solutions to persistent housing problems.

To this end, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing has partnered with the State University of New York to create the first fellowship program in affordable housing. Beginning this year, the association and SUNY will award four fellowships to graduate students studying law, business, urban planning or architecture at SUNY campuses in Albany, Buffalo, Stony Brook and Binghamton. Each fellow will receive $2,500 in his or her final year to examine affordable housing-related issues in their field of expertise.

Beyond financial support, the fellows will have exciting opportunities to connect with established association members across New York, giving them valuable real-life work experience.

In preparing for the future, the real estate community must also work to ensure that the makeup of our industry reflects changing demographics and a broad spectrum of experience. This includes enabling more local, minority and women-owned businesses to compete for their fair share of contracting opportunities and peer-to-peer support to help smaller firms break into the field.

Over the past several decades, affordable housing has grown into a diverse industry that draws professionals from real estate, construction, finance and supportive services, among others. Leading universities have expanded interdisciplinary programs to study the intersection of public policy, real estate, finance and urban studies.

We look forward to working with New York State’s best and brightest graduates to grow our industry and provide safe, reliable and affordable homes for New Yorkers.

Jolie A. Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. Steven J. Weiss is a principal at Cannon Heyman & Weiss, a Buffalo-based law firm.