When it comes to the long-running saga of the Kensington Heights housing development, the public can’t be blamed for believing that officials do not know what they are doing.
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority’s latest plan is to scrap its plan to demolish the remaining tower in favor of trying to sell “as-is” the 16.8-acre site at 1827 Fillmore Ave.
There once was a glimmer of hope that the six brick apartment towers that stood as a depressing symbol of neglect in a poor neighborhood would be demolished and a retirement community built in its place.
But that plan came crashing down after spending some $10 million, big money for an authority leaking dollars and three times the initial cost estimate for demolishing five of the towers. Now it’s back to the drawing board, and this time the plan is to appeal to private developers.
Catching some of the lofty residential, retail or commercial magic springing up in other parts of the city may be easier said than done. Besides, why should the public believe that this time authority officials have hit upon the right formula for a site that has been vacant since 1980?
Pardon us if we sound a bit negative, but it is hard to be optimistic given the sorry history. Kensington Heights has been a millstone for the BMHA for decades. The state and city were supposed to provide maintenance funds, but the money dried up a long time ago.
Big plans were on the drawing board for private redevelopment in 1989; nothing materialized. Demolition began in 2010, and it was expected the six towers would be down by the end of that year. It didn’t happen, as a scandal erupted over unsafe asbestos removal.
While the federal Environmental Protection Agency has declared the entire site asbestos-free, the BMHA doesn’t have the $280,000 to knock down the remaining tower. The BMHA will sell the property with the tower on it for the new owner to demolish or, depending on the offer, might consider knocking it down.
Kensington Heights is hardly the BMHA’s only problem. Funding is a constant issue. The abysmal condition of parts of the Commodore Perry housing complex, as reported recently in The News, is a disgrace.
Poor people have few housing choices and that list grows smaller when the available space is unlivable. And those publicly funded unlivable spaces act as a drain on resources that would otherwise provide for these same poor people.
Maybe a buyer will find the site attractive, ridding the city of an eyesore and relieving the BMHA of one drain on its budget. Unfortunately, the BMHA has gotten little right at Kensington Heights. It needs to make its latest plan work.