BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Along Perry Street in downtown Buffalo, brick buildings are boarded up, keeping people and animals out of the thirty vacant Commodore Perry Homes buildings.
"We maintain a consistent presence on the street, boarding and re-boarding and re-re-boarding, because you know it's subject to vandalism," said Gillian Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
That maintenance, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, is an ongoing effort. A January audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found "widespread health and safety issues." Pictures from two site visits in 2019 and 2020 show stairwells filled with standing water and trash, and unsecured windows that give access to filthy units littered with debris.
Included in the HUD report are a list of recommendations for the BMHA to improve public safety. Brown says they have adopted most of those recommendations and will be filling in the stairwells with concrete.
"It's a burden and we don't want to have that burden," said Brown.
Funding has been the primary pain point for accomplishing any meaningful work on these buildings - primarily demolition. Brown has been wanting to tear down these blighted buildings for years, but feels the stars are just now aligning.
"This is a really good time to be involved in affordable housing in New York State," said Brown.
Brown is particularly encouraged by potential American Rescue Plan funding through the City of Buffalo, as well as the $25 billion New York State has just committed to affordable housing in its new budget.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says Governor Kathy Hochul showed a commitment to redeveloping the land during stadium negotiations once it became clear the Buffalo Bills would be building in Orchard Park.
"She said at that time, I can't just leave the Perry Projects there doing nothing. We have to ensure that the investment is made. What that is has not been determined," said Poloncarz.
If the BMHA has its way, by summer of 2023 the buildings will be demolished, at a cost of about $6 million. That would kick-start a $250-300 million redevelopment effort that would bring in public housing as well as mixed income units and home ownership opportunities.
"This is going to be a revitalized community. It's going to be a city-changing project," said Brown.
The BMHA has already secured a developer and is working on financing. Representatives of the Authority have been meeting with people who live in the surrounding buildings to share their plans.
Brown hopes to see the community transformed in the next five to six years.