|Date:||January 13, 2022|
By: Matt Glynn | January 13, 2022
The city of Buffalo should make more-productive use of the vacant lots it owns, said Jeanette Koncikowski, executive director of Grassroots Gardens WNY.
"While the city has long evaluated repurposing ideas for its 8,000-plus vacant lots, they continue to prioritize sale of these lots to commercial developers," Koncikowski said Thursday.
Creating a new approach to using and disposing of city-owned vacant lots is the top item in the Partnership for Public Good's community agenda this year. The local think tank – which advocates on issues such as housing, criminal justice and equality – highlighted the ideas in a video presentation.
Nonprofit agencies focused on community development have unsuccessfully tried to purchase some city-owned lots for community development, Koncikowski said. And some property owners interested in buying vacant parcels next door have watched prices soar due to reassessment in the past three years, she added.
"A new land disposition policy will address these issues and create a more equitable use of land that recognizes the investment that community members have made and ensures public land is first and foremost for public benefit," Koncikowski said.
Koncikowski urged the Common Council and Mayor Byron Brown to work to develop a "neighborhood-led" plan for city-owned vacant land, working with residents, community groups and nonprofits.
The plan should reserve up to half of that land for "equitable and sustainable uses," including "green" affordable housing, public art, community gardens and urban farming, among other uses, she said. And the city should establish a policy for free transfer of "appropriate lots" to nonprofits, through a request-for-proposals process, Koncikowski said.
The Partnership for the Public Good chose 11 policy "planks" this year, from 25 ideas pitched for inclusion. The organization brings together more than 320 community groups in the region.
Another idea on the policy list: supporting state legislation that would allow for creation of public banks.
"We're asking for this legislation to be passed so we can take our taxpayer money and put it into a government-run public bank and put community reinvestment back in our hands through accountability and transparency that doesn't exist in our current system," said Kathryn Franco, chair of the Buffalo Niagara Community Reinvestment Coalition.
The nine other policy items are:
• Creating a comprehensive cultural plan for Buffalo and Erie County.
• Ensuring access to city services for young people who recently left foster care.
• Expanding language access at all levels of government.
• Independent police oversight in the city of Buffalo.
• Buffalo tenant bill of rights.
• Improving water equity for Buffalo residents.
• Establish an Office of Sustainability in Buffalo, to advance climate goals.
• New fair housing laws to fight segregation.
• Changing how the city conducts its annual foreclosure auction, giving priority to local buyers.