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Engaging the Future of Housing in the Buffalo-Niagara Region: A Preliminary Exploration of Challenges that Lie Ahead

Date: Oct 12, 2021
Author(s): Russell Weaver, Jason C. Knight
Topic(s): Housing / Neighborhoods: General, Housing / Neighborhoods: Public and Subsidized Housing
Type: Report

The following analyses and assessments of current socioeconomic and housing market conditions in Erie and Niagara counties are intended to support immediate programming efforts by Local Initiatives Support Corporation Western New York (LISC).

Executive Summary: Key Trends

This study identified the following broad trends, with significant differences among communities in the selected study area.

  • Regional population decline is slowing and on track to reverse course (i.e., experience growth) over the next decade.
  • However, future population growth is likely to be short-lived given the widening gap between death rates and birth rates in the region.
  • The growing gap between death and birth rates is due to an aging population structure.
  • Apart from aging, the region’s population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse – essentially all population growth being projected by analysts occurs from net increases in populations of color, while the non-Hispanic white population is shrinking.
  • Between stable population levels but growing numbers of households, average household sizes have decreased.
  • More households housing fewer people contributes to sprawl.
  • Indeed, new housing unit construction continues, but much construction is concentrated in the suburbs away from public transit.
  • Vacancy remains a persistent issue, especially in the City of Buffalo, and the region’s housing stock is, on balance, old. Most units were not built to universal design or other accessibility standards, and unit quality is likely to pose serious livability issues in spaces where older units have experienced chronic disinvestment.
  • Household income has increased over time, but so has poverty. In other words, the region is experiencing worsening inequality.
  • Buffalo-Niagara is a low-income region, with almost half of all households reporting family income at or below 80% of the family-size-adjusted area median level.
  • The housing market is a seller’s market, with tightening inventories and more homes selling above asking price than ever before.
  • Growth in housing prices is meaningfully outpacing growth in wages, and both recent and expected job growth are occurring in disproportionately low wage economic sectors.
  • The mismatch between stagnant wages/family income and rapidly rising housing costs is making housing increasingly unaffordable for a vast fraction of households. More than three in ten households currently spend over 30% of their gross monthly family income on housing, leaving them housing cost-burdened. This fraction is likely to rise without intervention.
  • Housing cost-burden is most severe within historically marginalized population subgroups, including households headed by persons of color, households headed by women, and households that include persons with disabilities.
  • Collectively, cost-burdened households face an annual affordable housing income deficit of $766 million. That is, it would take nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in direct household subsidies, every year, to make it such that no household in Buffalo-Niagara spends more than 30% of its gross monthly family income on housing.
  • Equitable policies for reducing this vast income deficit and promote more affordable housing include, among others: a higher universal minimum wage; a permanent expansion of the federal child tax credit; federal, state, and local investment into expanding and improving public housing; and federal, state, and local investment into collective housing alternatives such as co-housing, community land trusts, and resident-owned communities.