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Buffalo group gets a million bucks to rehab homes, train youth

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
An 1865 home in Buffalo's historic First Ward neighborhood is getting the "green" treatment thanks to an AmeriCorps grant.

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This story should sound familiar by now: an 1860s home in Buffalo, now vacant for a decade or so, draws the attention of a wrecking ball. The house goes, and the neighborhood is left with an empty lot.

But a 25-foot wide lot would essentially be useless, says Laura Kelly, of the Old First Ward Association, a collection of neighborhood boosters. That's because modern building codes call for more space for new residential construction.

The solution: rehab the house instead of tearing it down.  And now that effort is getting a million dollar boost.

“We have way too much housing in this city. Much of it is substandard housing. So if we can add a unit of good, safe affordable housing, that’s always a good thing,” Kelly says.

Meticulously rehabbing these “pieces of history,” as Kelly calls them, has been ongoing for the past two years through the western New York AmeriCorps YouthBuild program. Funding for the project, and the $1.2 million grant awarded Monday, comes from the federal Department of Labor, to “green” existing homes, and train youth in construction trades.

"It takes a little bit of work"

The cash will fund 64 local youths to learn construction trades while giving them a chance to work on a diploma or GED. Buffalo’s declining and abandoned housing stock, estimated at over 10,000 parcels, will serve as their  classroom.

The fruits of their labor will be appreciated, Kelly says.

“We have more and more [buyers] wanting to come down here. I get call weekly asking, ‘What’s for sale in the [First] Ward?’  But what they’re looking for is, ‘Oh, we’d love to live in a cottage in the Buffalo River community but wouldn’t it be nice if it’s already updated and insulated and has Wi-Fi?’ Well, that’s not how these are built. So it takes a little bit of work,” Kelley says.

But the money may be short-lived. YouthBuild’s funding was slashed in half in the latest federal budget. And Kelly admits, a million bucks only goes so far these days. 

But it does buy optimism. 

“Every single house we touch, we’re strengthening the bones of the neighborhood, essentially,” Kelly says.

Homes will receive high efficiency insulation and other environmentally-advanced improvements. Then the properties will be rented at market rates to low to mid-income families. 

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