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Another Voice: India Walton’s values will open City Hall to its residents

Another Voice: India Walton’s values will open City Hall to its residents

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Mayor Byron Brown recently told this newspaper’s editorial board of his desire “to make Buffalo one of the best post-pandemic places to live, work, raise a family and invest.” His write-in campaign speaks of “the incredible momentum and progress his administration has achieved.”

The numbers don’t support such a rosy assessment of the four-term mayor’s accomplishments.

For most Americans, homeownership is the primary form of investment. Nationwide, nearly 64% of residents own their homes. The percentage of homeowners in Buffalo has decreased steadily from an already-low 45% in 2010, to 40.7% in 2019. In other words, nearly three of five residents in the city where Brown has been mayor since 2006 are renters.

In 2019, 30.1% of Buffalonians were living in what the federal government defines as poverty, a rate nearly three times that of our nation as a whole. White, non-Hispanics constitute more than a quarter of Buffalo’s poor.

Most troubling, Buffalo has the second highest percentage of childhood poverty of all major American cities, 43.4%. Only Cleveland’s rate is higher. In 2005, the year prior to Brown becoming the city’s chief executive, the child poverty rate was “only” 37.5%. In 2016, six cities had a higher percentage of their youth living in poverty than Buffalo. Five of those six mayors found ways to improve their standing.

These disturbing trends have occurred during Brown’s tenure despite – or, perhaps, as a result of – his administration’s stridently pro-developer perspective.

India Walton’s platform is centered on people, and a belief that housing, health care, healthy food and a quality education are basic human rights. Her energies will not be spent concocting ways to provide tens of millions of dollars of tax abatements to politically connected developers, as the Brown administration did when it attempted to bail out a distressed private developer by declaring the Gates Circle area “blighted.”

Economic development under Walton will focus on neighborhood-driven projects. She will not ignore the harmful aspects of gentrification that have burdened the residential streets adjoining the Buffalo Niagara Medial Campus. Her administration will not encourage project sponsors to circumvent the standards established in Buffalo’s Green Code.

Most importantly, Buffalo’s iconic City Hall will no longer be hostile toward its residents. Communities will be provided tools to help establish ground-up neighborhood planning efforts. Affordable housing will be championed, and Walton will not be dissuaded by the corporate elite from proposing mandatory inclusionary housing laws that require developers to set aside a set percent of units in new or refurbished buildings for lower-rent apartments.

Lastly, the 60% of Buffalonians who rent their homes will no longer be left out of the zoning and planning process. Working with the Common Council, the Walton administration will amend the provision in Brown’s Green Code that mails public hearing notices to absentee landlords, but not to tenants.

Arthur J. Giacalone is a lawyer whose practice has focused for more than 30 years on zoning and environmental law.

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