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To some, Buffalo's renaissance has left citizens behind

Brenda Miller, a resident of Buffalo's Grant-Ferry neighborhood, has a vision of where the city is at, which doesn't quite comport with the vision of a city undergoing economic resurgence.

The same for Annette Lott. The Fruit Belt neighborhood resident laments the lack of quality, affordable housing in marginalized neighborhoods in the city.

India Walton, lead organizer for Open Buffalo's Justice and Opportunity Table, sees a need for "improved quality of life for all people."

The three are among more than 200 who gathered this week at the Central Library to describe their own version of the state of the city. They believe things look different for those from communities that have barely been touched by the economic resurgence touted by elected officials.

"The narrative that we're made to believe and the dominant narrative has become one of: Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance or resurgence," said Harper Bishop, of Open Buffalo, who helped organize a forum Thursday to air their own views of the city's progress. "And that is not the lived experience of many of the people that you see here tonight."

 

The forum, which was organized by Our City, a coalition of local community and social justice organizations, was aimed at giving people, like Miller – a community organizer with PUSH Buffalo – a forum to rebut what they deemed as an overly rosy view of the city's social and economic fortunes.

"Back in February, Mayor Brown gave the State of City address and there was one phrase that he used over and over," said Rev. Robert LaValle.

"That phrase was, 'This is our time.' Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Mayor – and I say this with respect – but you can't say this is our time and then praise real estate developers who are displacing poor folks. You can't say this is our time when less than half the black folks in Buffalo don't trust the police to help them out when they need help," LaValle said.

Geo Hernandez, another moderator, was succinct. "We're here to have a people's version, a more authentic version of the state of this city," she said.

Speakers addressed one of four topics: housing, policing, public education and public transportation. They are areas, many insisted, where the city has lacked a progressive vision to the detriment and peril of its low-income residents, people of color and members of other marginalized groups who continue to be under-served.

Walton described a vision for a city she would like to see in which people are made more safe, not because of more arrests, but because of "improved quality of life for all people."

"In our city, we invest in eliminating the conditions that cause violent, underground economies to thrive. We do not violate public trust by abusing power. We do not accost young people by looking to justify illegal searches," Walton added.

She and others referenced the fates of 20-year-old Wardel "Meech" Davis, who was unarmed when he struggled with police and wound up dead in February 2017, and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, 26, who also was unarmed when he was shot and killed while trying to evade police last May.

Arnester Vanoy, the mother of Tonya "Kita" Harvey, a 35-year-old transgender woman who was fatally shot, and whose body was found Feb. 8 on Shepard Street, also spoke.

"I'm very hurt that my daughter didn't have a right in this city, that didn't find justice as of yet in this city, that my daughter's blood is still on Shepard Street in this city," said Vanoy, who added that she has heard little from the police about her daughter's death. The case remains unsolved.

Others focused on housing and public education.

Lott, of the Fruit Belt, lamented the lack of quality, affordable housing, recalling how, 60 years ago, her parents purchased a home in the Fruit Belt for themselves and their nine children.

"In our city, people with low incomes and, maybe, not quite the best credit scores, could afford to buy houses. In our city, opportunities for housing would not be just for those who could afford, but for anyone who needed it," said Lott.

Christine Slocum of Western New York Homeless Alliance said affordable housing ought to be a right in Buffalo and that homelessness should be nonexistent.

"The American Community Survey says that more than half of us renters – 54.8 percent, if you're interested in specific numbers – are paying more of their income than what's considered affordable for their housing," Slocum said.

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