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Another Voice: Housing complex involved good urban planning

By Gerald E. Kelly

As the former executive director of Greater Buffalo Development Foundation Inc., an urban planning think tank involved in the formation of Marine Drive Apartments, I have some thoughts on the transition of the complex, though it occurred before I came on board.

There was nothing secret or sinister about it. It was a good urban planning solution to a problem in its day, the 1960s.

The complex was built in the early 1950s as low-income public housing. Dante Place, as the complex was formerly known, was later closed and emptied, as happened at many other public housing complexes around the country, because of crime and damage to the property. The City of Buffalo had to heat and maintain the property even as it was empty.

It was decided that middle-income tenants might move in and invest in the property. Hence, a new middle-income tenant co-op was given a 40-year lease on the property, and primarily individuals who worked downtown moved in.

Probably it was not an easy sell; in the 1960s everyone wanted to be in homes in the suburbs, not in small apartments in a then-isolated part of downtown Buffalo.

While the rents may have been lower than market rate, tenants agreed to take the units in an “as is” condition and invested their own money in repairing and remodeling. Still there are hardwood floors, solid wood kitchen cabinets and built-in appliances. And an additional assessment has always been included when incomes exceed guidelines. 

Forty years later, the middle-income tenant lease was not renewed by the city, the courts deemed that more minority and low-income residents should be included and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has been overseeing and/or managing the complex.

The city now grapples with what Marine Drive Apartments will become. But missing from the discussion is the fact that the creation of Marine Drive Apartments in the 1960s made a positive impact on downtown.

An empty complex was occupied, tenants took a chance and invested, and they formed a successful new neighborhood.

Those original Marine Drive tenants who have remained through many changes of management and policy should not be derided for somehow having taken advantage, but be supported for being risk-taking urban pioneers.

Gerald E. Kelly is former executive director of the Greater Buffalo Development Foundation.