Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of June 19, 2023

Date: June 23, 2023

By Regine Ndanga, Hannah Gabelnick, Megan Battista, and Caitlin Crowell

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items.

This week’s summary focuses on the Legislation, Community DevelopmentCivil Service, and Finance Committees.  In this summary, we will abbreviate “Council Member” as CM, "Council President" as CP, and "Majority Leader" as ML.

In the Legislation Committee, CP Pridgen expressed frustration about the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores when discussing an application for a new neighborhood market. He encouraged applicants for a new corner store to include those items in their plans. The applicants’ permit application was tabled until they conduct a community meeting to assess neighbors’ needs and interests.

Architect Michael Lukaszewski proposed introducing climate-controlled container services at 205 Lombard, adjacent to the Broadway Market. This would allow for the establishment of a four-season container garden that will serve as a source of food for local restaurants and residents. Produce will be available to residents at reduced rates. 

The Civil Service Committee took up their concern about transparency regarding city job openings. CM Rivera said that the council needed to receive job vacancy information prior to the council’s budget deliberations. CM Wyatt agreed and suggested the council receive reports every two months. 

In the Community Development Committee, CM Bollman said he’s asking the Buffalo Public Schools to host warming shelters in some of their facilities during emergency weather events.

A Buffalo resident, Teresa Coleman, requested money to replace her front door after her home was raided by the Buffalo Police Department in 2019. She claimed that the warrant used to raid her home was fictitious because the person that the police were looking for never lived in her home. Assistant Corporation Counsel Carin Gordon said that Coleman’s claim was not approved, but they will look at it again. The committee sent this to the Claims Committee for council consideration.

Next, the committee heard from community members about a dispute concerning rent and home purchase through the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust (FBCLT). Elverna Gidney, President of the FBCLT, said that the FBCLT’s purpose is to provide affordable single-family homes for purchase, not rent, “as a catalyst to spread generational wealth.” She said that two residents are currently leasing homes on land that was donated from the City of Buffalo with the ultimate goal of buying the homes. Gidney said that they have failed to consistently pay their lease agreement fees. She also contested the residents’ completion of their purchasing paperwork.

One tenant, Ms. Perry, explained that she’d secured a mortgage, but the bank was waiting on the FBCLT for additional paperwork. The other tenant, Ms. Bell, said that due to leadership change at the FBCLT, she hadn’t had a direct contact with the organization, and hadn’t moved forward with the process to purchase. The tenants are facing a rent increase to $1500 from their current rents of $600 and $800.

India Walton, a founding member of and former Executive Director of the FBCLT, said that the rent increases conflict with the FBCLT’s mission of development without displacement. Walton claimed the FBCLT is violating its bylaws and should be dissolved. Alternatively, the board needs help from experts to increase accountability and resolve this conflict. Brandi Barrett, former Director of Operations of the FBCLT, clarified that the lots that the homes are on were purchased from the city–not donated as Gidney had claimed. She said that this reveals how the board members of the FBCLT do not understand their own operations.

CP Pridgen was highly distressed about the turmoil in the FBCLT. He explained that the community land trust is important for both the Fruit Belt and the City of Buffalo as a one-of-a-kind affordable housing model. He suggested that the council table the issue until the board of the FBCLT meets with Perry and Bell to talk through the mortgage process. They can report back in a month to the committee. He said that if there is an eviction process on the tenants without meetings and due process, he would not vote for another piece of land to be transferred to the FBCLT. The committee tabled the issue. You can read more about the issue here

Next, CM Wyatt asked the administration to look into creating cooling centers in the University District. He said that there should be warming and cooling centers throughout the city for the safety and welfare of residents. The committee will revisit this at their next meeting.

In the Finance Committee, Commissioner Dowell explained that crossing guards were going to be having a pay increase of 62 cents an hour based on the increase of the living wage.

A representative from Strategic Planning spoke about the public hearings associated with the Annual Action Plan Budget recommendations. About 40 residents attended. The rep said that residents spoke most strongly about infill, because demolition without infrastructure development is harming neighborhoods. CM Wyatt advocated for additional monies dedicated to demolition and infill. CM Nowakowski advocated for affordable opportunities to purchase homes, rather than relying on additional rental housing. ML Rivera agreed, and said that vacant lots should be targeted for homeowners. 

The finance committee as a whole communicated that there is an issue with unfair raises to rent, and CM Wyatt communicated that creativity was necessary to address the lack of affordable housing, calling the situation “dire.” 

CM Bollman asked how sidewalk and street segments are targeted for repair. The representative from strategic planning explained that they consult DPW proposals and also HUD regulations, which mandate that repairs using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars can only be made in neighborhoods that are low income and at least 51% residential. 

CM Nowakowski asked for a report on American Rescue Plan Act spending. Commissioner Dowell explained that there is a plan for monies to support revenue replacement and, in addition, there were 29 projects funded by ARPA funds. 

ML Rivera and CM Wyatt brought up a concern that we are offsetting city budget needs and revenue replacement with ARPA rather than supporting the businesses and neighborhoods impacted by COVID which was the original purpose. Some organizations got bridge loans based on the promised support from the common council, and the funds have not been released.