Buffalo News Editorial Board: "City priorities should include housing, infrastructure and key amenities"

Date: April 27, 2024

Buffalo News Editorial Board | April 27, 2024

It’s time to look forward.

We’re expecting ideas and projects that will move Buffalo in a robust, innovative direction, as well as discussion of improvements in services and infrastructure when Mayor Byron W. Brown presents his State of the City address on May 1. It’s also time to talk taxes.

The seasoned mayor – it is his fifth term – should be able to give a master class in presenting such addresses, but here are some thoughts on what he could include:

Housing as a top priority

Affordable housing is an issue around the nation. While Buffalo is no San Francisco or New York City, advocates have long decried the region’s rising rent. The News’ Jonathan D. Epstein tackled the issue in “Is Buffalo Niagara housing still affordable?” For many, the answer is a hard “no.” Jimmy McMillan, who started the “Rent is Too Damned High Party,” had a blunt and accurate point that is even more urgent now.

The mayor might offer updates on ongoing efforts to revitalize the city’s low-income housing, with the Commodore Perry complex a high-profile example, as well as ongoing and infill projects happening with help from the county and state. A $23.5 million city-county project announced last summer involves building homes on land bank properties in Buffalo and the Town of Cheektowaga. In addition, New York State has announced a pilot to bring single- and double-family homes to empty lots in Buffalo, as well as other municipalities.

And there will likely be other news on housing from the mayor.

Lead inspections as a top priority

The mayor should announce a strong initiative to fully administer its Proactive Rental Inspection law. The law exists to protect children from the life-altering effects of lead paint poisoning, as well as remediate other problems in rental units, such as unsound plumbing, leaky roofs and more. Since at least the early 1990s, Buffalo has ranked among the nation’s worst cities for childhood lead poisoning – a function of its aging housing stock and other factors.

The Erie County Health Department designated nine ZIP codes in the city as communities of concern because of elevated childhood lead poisoning.

Since 2021 Buffalo has completed a paltry few thousand out of 36,000 of PRI inspections and issued even fewer certificates of compliance, at over 450.

Commissioner of Permits and Inspections Catherine Amdur recently claimed the $2.1 million cost of the program was too expensive, but that just means it’s time to figure out a way to make it affordable. For example, the Partnership for the Public Good suggests using funds from the city’s rental registry fees to offset costs.

Remaining American Rescue Plan funding — another PPG suggestion — as well as HUD lead removal funds could also go toward eradicating lead paint from Buffalo’s old housing stock.

Smart Streets

Hopefully, there will be more news on the city’s aspirational Smart Streets infrastructure project, which will add smart-city technology, including accommodations for electric vehicles, autonomous shuttles, e-bikes and e-scooters. Pop-up parklets, curb extensions and parking sensors are also planned. The idea is to create a safe, accessible and attractive infrastructure that encourages residents to leave their cars behind.

Swimming pools

Given Buffalo’s difficulties with keeping its municipal swimming pools open, the mayor might discuss Gov. Kathy Hochul’s enacted state budget’s inclusion of funding for both state and municipal swimming and recreational facilities. Buffalo has struggled, as have communities across the nation, to staff lifeguards at outdoor swimming pools where children can learn life-saving skills. With summer close at hand, providing healthy outdoor recreation for all Buffalo neighborhoods is important.

Finally, there will likely be news from the mayor on Buffalo’s ongoing fiscal health and how it will be maintained. Higher taxes have been mentioned by the mayor as “possible.” Let’s hear the specifics.

Read the Buffalo News article on their website, here.