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PUSH, other groups want new projects to include units for low-income renters

The neighborhood advocacy organization PUSH Buffalo and other groups want new Buffalo apartment developments to include units set aside for people with low incomes.

In new apartment buildings with 12 or more units, nearly one out of every three units should be reserved for those who earn less than the median household income, they said.

The groups want the city to require the set asides through a zoning and planning code now under review by city officials.

“This would be a new policy to the city,” said Jenifer Kaminsky, director of planning and community development at People United for Sustainable Housing in Buffalo, or PUSH Buffalo. “But certainly other cities in New York State have adopted similar policies.”

More than 200 people who support the idea filled out and signed cards that were recently delivered to the Common Council.

The postcards backed the idea of “inclusionary” zoning, Kaminsky said.

Kaminsky, who works on housing issues for the West Side organization, delivered the cards to the council last month.

“We delivered over 240 of these,” Kaminsky said.

PUSH and other organizations in the city – Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Open Buffalo and the Partnership for the Public Good among others – began distributing and then collecting the cards in March.

Kaminsky said that she had not yet received a response from city officials.

“I don’t know exactly what the response from the city will be, but I anticipate a productive conversation,” Kaminsky said.

The groups’ goal is for future housing with a proportion of rental prices targeted to fit the budget of a Buffalo family that earns 60 percent of the median income here, Kaminsky said.

The Census Bureau estimated Buffalo’s median household income to be $31,668 in 2014. So the policy would help those with at least a $19,000 household income.

One developer said his company is already working on such a project in the city: a seven-story project called Campus Square, near Buffalo General Medical Center.

“I think it’s where society is going, as far as making sure neighborhoods are representative of the population, which includes all races as well as all income levels,” said James F. Dentinger, president of McGuire Development Co.

He said inclusionary projects have worked well in other places.

Foundation work for the Campus Square project will begin soon, he said.

Of the project’s 154 units, half are for lower income residents, he said.

Dentinger said he would be in favor of such a provision in the city’s new zoning code.

“There’s an acceptance of that marriage right now,” he said, of neighborhoods and projects with mixed uses and diverse populations.

In the Town of Hamburg, officials are currently considering changes to town housing policies that would encourage homes for those who have lower incomes, as well.

The Hamburg measure calls for housing that fits the budgets of residents making 50 to 80 percent of the median income for the county.

Numerous public meetings on a planning and zoning code proposed by city officials – labeled the Green Code – have been held since the process began several years ago.

The code is expected to be approved this summer.

Gathering signatures on the cards to give to city officials went better than expected, Kaminsky said.

She said she had hoped to gather maybe 50 signed cards.

But they ended up with well over 200.

“It really resonated strongly with a lot of different people,” Kaminsky said. “People responded really well to what we were talking about.”