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Lockport leaders, residents seek solutions to deteriorating South Street neighborhood

LOCKPORT – The residential area just south of downtown Lockport is rapidly deteriorating and needs a combination of code enforcement and more prideful residents, participants said at a sparsely attended public meeting Tuesday.

The forum in the Lockport Public Library was called by the city’s economic development agency, which obtained a $50,000 state grant to pay for a study on improving the South Street neighborhood.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said the study area is bounded by Erie, Walnut, South Transit and High streets.

“We’ve got a lot of families there,” McCaffrey said. “It’s very close to downtown.” She said she hopes the study by H. Sicherman & Co., the city’s economic development consultant, can “produce a blueprint for the city going forward.”

McCaffrey said the key topics at the meeting included workforce development, business development and crime prevention. But the talk quickly turned to the shabby state of the district.

“There are a lot of low-income people who live in this area, but it doesn’t have to look low-income,” said Allan W. Jack, who has lived on Erie Street for 45 years. “There’s no excuse to let housing go down. It’s like a cancer.”

There was general agreement among the group, which included about 10 citizens and almost as many people connected to the city or the consulting firm, that absentee landlords are to blame for much of the rundown housing. About two-thirds of the housing in the study zone are rentals, said R. Charles Bell, the former city development chief, who now works for Sicherman. But no tenants attended the meeting.

“There are two houses on Genesee Street that have been boarded up for nine years,” Common Council President David R. Wohleben said. “The guy pays his taxes. We’ve got all kinds of code violations written up against him. There’s a warrant out for his arrest, but he lives in California.”

Marty Nagy, director of Lockport CARES, a homeless shelter on Genesee Street, said people staying in her shelter simply can’t afford an apartmen because rents in Lockport start at about $450 a month.

Things would improve “if we had 5,000 more blue-collar jobs,” said the Rev. Alan J. Bauch, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church.

But Nagy said she asked one of her shelter’s clients about employment. The man said, “Oh, I don’t really like to work.”

Insurance agent Mary Murphy said she’s worried about safety, referring to the recent shooting of a man at John and LaGrange streets.

“A shooting at 10:15 in the morning during the work week outside my office?” Murphy asked. “We have a lot of characters going through our parking lot.”

Nagy said, “We have a bullet embedded in our living room wall from a shooting.

“Hopefully, helping this neighborhood won’t move the problem to another neighborhood,” said Maj. Jose Santiago of the Lockport chapter of The Salvation Army.