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State AG awards funds to Buffalo, Niagara Falls for housing blight fight

The cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls will receive significant state grants toward programs to assist their housing code enforcement programs and help low- to moderate-income homeowners who are unable to make repairs to fix code violations.

State Attorney General Letitia James announced the funding Friday in Niagara Falls City Hall.

Buffalo will receive $953,983 to set up a program that will identify landlords who can't afford to make code-compliance repairs as well as those who have the means to do so but are simply not willing to comply.

An $882,625 grant to Niagara Falls will be spent creating a fund to assist lower-income homeowners who are stuck in Housing Court.

"I'm sure it's in the hundreds," Mayor Robert M. Restaino said when asked how many Niagara Falls residents might be in that category.

"It's an opportunity to provide some assistance to people who also want to improve their dwelling but just don't seem to have the economic ability to do it," Restaino said.

Niagara Falls also will use the state money to set up a call center and a ticketing system to help connect such homeowners to other forms of government services.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said in a news release that the state grant will "provide the resources necessary to transform our code enforcement efforts into a proactive system that improves the quality of housing and neighborhoods for low-income residents across the city."

"We know that blighted properties are a nuisance. They attract a criminal element," James said. "So it's critically important that we use settlement dollars as a result of the foreclosure crisis. All of the cases that were brought by the Attorney General during the foreclosure crisis against Goldman Sachs, et al., those resources will now be used to address the blighted properties in Western New York and all across the State of New York."

The grants come from a state program called Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement.

Ten participating cities, including Buffalo and Niagara Falls, developed their grant applications by working with experts from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and Tolemi, a Boston company that analyzes data for local governments.

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