Letter to Council to Support State Proposal for Affordable Housing

Date: March 15, 2024

We sent the following letter to the Buffalo Common Council in response to the Legislation Committee's decision to ignore resolutions of support for a New York State affordable housing proposal. You can watch the video of the Council's discussion on this topic here, starting at 23:45. 


March 15, 2024
Buffalo Common Council
Buffalo City Hall
65 Niagara Square, Room 1413
Buffalo, NY 14202
Subject: Advance NYS Funding for Affordable Housing in Buffalo
Dear Buffalo Common Council Members,

We are deeply disturbed by the Council’s refusal to support New York State legislative bills that would revitalize and stabilize housing in the City of Buffalo. The Council’s negligence on this issue is actively harming residents of this city.  We urge the Council to revisit these proposals and do what’s right for residents in the City of Buffalo by adopting supporting resolutions.

On Tuesday, March 12, Council Members Wyatt and Rivera asked the Legislation Committee to consider resolutions supporting New York State Senate Bills 8575, 8585, 8591, and 8622. The lead sponsor of these bills, Senator Sean Ryan, attended the meeting to discuss the bills’ goals and implications. If passed in the State legislature, the bills would:

  • Provide funding for five years for infill development of single and double housing units on vacant lots, and subsidize the sales of these homes to low-to-moderate income households;
  • Create a grant fund for small landlords to rehabilitate existing units to improve Buffalo’s rental housing stock;
  • Make Erie County emergency rental assistance more accessible for households facing eviction due to non-payment of rent;
  • Require utility companies to insulate homes through a pilot weatherization program.

To stabilize Buffalo neighborhoods and residents, we must increase the number of affordable housing units in our city, improve the condition of existing units, and provide crucial assistance to tenants who’ve temporarily fallen behind on their rent. The proposed New York State bills tackle our housing crisis from these three critical avenues.

For these reasons, we are perplexed and disturbed by the Legislation Committee’s recommendation to ignore these resolutions of support.

Committee members did not raise any substantive reasons to refuse support.

One committee member expressed concern that these state bills do not yet have numerous co-sponsors. However, state legislators often look to the relevant municipality for a statement of support before going on to co-sign the proposed legislation. If the City of Buffalo legislative body is unwilling to support these initiatives that would directly impact Buffalo, how can we expect state legislators to stand in support of them?

Another committee member expressed that other municipalities in Erie County should take on the task of developing additional affordable housing. We agree that affordable housing should be available across all of Erie County. That way, individuals and families can choose where they’d like to live, and they can seek opportunities in areas that best suit them. However, there are over 32,000 households that cannot afford their rent in the City of Buffalo. Should we tell them: wait for other municipalities in Erie County to develop affordable housing and move out there? As a city with residents who are struggling to maintain roofs over their heads, we must do what we can to house the residents who already call Buffalo home.

A committee member explained that they would not be willing to support this initiative, but they would be willing to support a proposal for more Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding from New York State. While additional funding from the state is always welcome, a change in AIM funding would require that every municipality across the state receive additional funding—a major expense for New York State. Senator Ryan’s proposals are specifically targeted to upstate cities and are therefore a much lower cost to the state, likely making them more politically feasible to pass. 

As the Council should know well, the City of Buffalo, along with many cities in the U.S., is experiencing a housing crisis. Almost half (47%) of renter households cannot afford their rent, and more than one in every four renter households pays more than half their income on housing costs.[1] As housing costs have risen, wages have largely remained stagnant. Between 2012 and 2018, the price of square footage for housing increased four times the rate of wages during that period.[2]

Unaffordable housing costs mean that tenants can easily fall behind on their rent and suddenly face eviction. In 2022 alone, Buffalo City Court saw nearly 9,000 eviction filings.[3] When tenants are forced to move, they’re more likely to lose their jobs, experience depression, experience homelessness, and their children are more likely to fall behind in school.[4] We must increase the number of affordable housing units and prevent eviction to stabilize renters in our city.

We must also improve the quality of existing housing units. Most of the city’s residential buildings were constructed before 1940, and many have been subject to neglect and inadequate maintenance. This has led to a myriad of structural and health-related issues for tenants – peeling lead paint, dangerous electrical wiring, sewage backups, lack of fire safety, lack of heat, water leaks, mold, infestations, and much more. While some landlords simply refuse to make necessary repairs because they don’t want impact their profit margins, others find it difficult to afford the often-expensive repairs older houses require. By incentivizing small landlords to make repairs, we can ensure that tenants have a safe, healthy place to live, while also strengthening Buffalo’s housing stock as a whole.

If passed, state bills S8575, S8585, S8591, and S8622 would have a major positive impact on our region’s residents and housing. We implore the Buffalo Common Council to adopt the proposed resolutions of support for these bills.  
Thank you,
Sarah Wooton
Director of Community Research
Partnership for the Public Good

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, “Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income in the Past 12 Months,” B25070, 2022 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates (Buffalo City, New York), accessed March 15, 2023, https://data.census.gov/table?q=B25070&g=160XX00US3611000.
[2] Russell Weaver and Jason Knight, Engaging the Future of Housing in the Buffalo-Niagara Region: A Preliminary Exploration of Challenges that Lie Ahead (report: 2021), https://ppgbuffalo.org/files/documents/housing_neighborhoods/general/housingneighborhoods-_engaging_the_future_of_housing_in_the_buffalo-niagara_region.pdf, p60.
[3] “Cornell ILR Eviction Filings Dashboard,” Cornell University, accessed March 15, 2024, https://blogs.cornell.edu/nysevictions/city-and-district-court-filings-by-zip-code/.
[4] Partnership for the Public Good, Evicted in Buffalo: the High Costs of Involuntary Mobility, (report, n.p.: Partnership for the Public Good, 2020), https://ppgbuffalo.org/files/documents/housing_neighborhoods/general/housingneighborhoods-_evicted_in_buffalo.pdf.