By Annette Lott
The Buffalo revival story is widespread today. While the overall economy may be rebounding, however, we continue to struggle in the Fruit Belt neighborhood. We’re fighting to maintain the community and the right to live and raise our families here.
The Community First Alliance is a coalition of more than a dozen community-based organizations in Buffalo that have come together to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
In our Rising Tide document, we have designed a vision of what a benefits agreement might look like. It calls for more responsible growth of the Medical Campus, as well as the preservation and empowerment of the Fruit Belt neighborhood.
Rising Tide clearly outlines anti-gentrification tools and strategies that would help maintain affordable housing, create jobs for underemployed community members and keep longtime residents in their homes. One such tool is a community land trust.
In the Fruit Belt neighborhood, there are more than 200 vacant lots that are owned by the City of Buffalo. With the rapid growth of the nearby Medical Campus, developers from outside the community have their eyes on the Fruit Belt.
Many of those developers have already proven themselves to be untrustworthy; their final insult will be to extract the last remaining resources from our community for their own personal gain.
That’s precisely why, over the past year, our alliance has introduced the idea of creating a Fruit Belt Community Land Trust.
It will empower Fruit Belt residents to take control of the vacant lots so that it’s less about having a seat around the decision-making table, and more about community control of the decision-making altogether.
The Fruit Belt Community Land Trust will generate community wealth through collective ownership, a principle familiar to the African-American community. It is embodied in the spirit of Ujima and has been practiced in the Fruit Belt for generations.
I know it was in my family, at least. I come from a family of nine, and I remember my father being so happy that he could provide for us. We had a nice home with a nice backyard. I remember him saying, “I can’t let my home fall.”
Just like now, I’m saying, “We can’t let the neighborhood fall.” This may be our last chance to make sure that it doesn’t.
I hope you’ll join us in the fight by supporting the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust. For more information, go to our Facebook page at facebook.com/CFAbuffalo.
Annette Lott is the president of Fruit Belt United and a member of the Community First Alliance. She has been part of the Fruit Belt community her entire life.