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As goes the corner, so goes the neighborhood

A state grant is bankrolling the restoration of a west side home. Buffalo non-profit People United for Sustainable Housing, or PUSH, wants to use the home as a model for future efforts to revitalize low-income neighborhoods. 

The corner home at Massachusetts and 19th Street is now divided into apartments, but it used to be a thriving storefront. That was decades ago. But PUSH Director Aaron Bartley says what once was, may soon be again.

“Hammers are flying and we can already see the façade of the building changing pretty rapidly,” Bartley says.

Thanks to a state grant from the New York State Homes and Community Renewal Agency, more than $150,000 worth of work will be performed on the 100-year old building. Last year the same home was featured on Extreme Makeover Home Edition, a popular Sunday evening ABC television program.

Shawn Ryan is overseeing the improvements. He’s director of the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company. He says the state money is intended to improve critical properties in low-income neighborhoods that could have impact beyond their boundaries. Corner properties, Ryan says, have the greatest impact.

“We hope that it will send a message that this is the kind of neighborhood that, if you’re a homeowner currently, that you will invest in a new roof. Or if you’re thinking about moving into this area that this will send a signal that it’s safe to invest in this neighborhood,” Ryan says.

Crews will remove asbestos and lead-based materials in the next few weeks. They’ll be replaced with energy efficient siding, windows and a heat-reflecting roof.

“Part of greening a neighborhood is removing toxins. Buffalo has a major problem with tiling that was used in the 1960’s and 70’s that’s made of asbestos. Every house that we professionally remove that from makes for a greener neighborhood,” Bartley says.

As construction workers began working Thursday a man drove by and yelled out the window that the project was essentially a waste of time and money due to the rough nature of the neighborhood.

“He’s living in the west side of the late 1980’s. He’s about 20 years behind where in terms of where the direction the neighborhood has taken. We are seeing houses sell at decent prices,” Bartley said. “One of our goals is to make sure the neighborhood stays affordable. So we’re actually worried about the opposite. That the neighborhood is improving too quickly,” Bartley says.

Bartley says corner propertieshelp turn around entire blocks.  But Ryan says the project isn’t meant to gentrify the entire neighborhood

“Is it down on its heels a little bit? Sure. But there are people in this community who care about this neighborhood and are willing to fight hard to bring it back and restore it to its former glory,” Ryan said. “It’s a working class neighborhood. It’s been a working class neighborhood and will continue to be a working class neighborhood. But we want to make it a safer, more secure neighborhood also.”


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WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.