|Congressman Higgins Asks HUD to Develop Funding Formula to Address Vacant Housing Problems in Older Communities Like Western New York|
|August 21, 2008|
In a letter to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Steven Preston, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) is calling upon the Department to ensure that the funding formula created for the distribution of emergency Community Development Block Grant funds provided in the recently approved American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act meets the unique needs of older cities and communities like those in Western New York.
“I strongly urge you to consider the plight of older industrial cities and regions like Western New York,” Higgins said in his letter. “While Western New York may not lead in terms of impact from the immediate foreclosure crisis as compared to other communities, the fact is that it faces its own vacant housing problem that is more chronic, systemic, and prolonged than in almost any other American Community.”
The American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act strengthens neighborhoods by providing Community Development Block Grant funds to states and localities to buy vacant homes at a discount and rehabilitate or redevelop the homes to stabilize neighborhoods. Among other things, the legislation provides $4 billion for communities to rehabilitate or redevelop vacant property.
Higgins noted that the City of Buffalo alone is home to approximately 20,000 vacant properties in some form of foreclosure or delinquency. He goes on to stress the importance of a comprehensive rehabilitation and reuse program in addition to demolition dollars, particularly for structures with historical or architectural significance.
Congressman Higgins, who serves as Co-chair of the Congressional Revitalizing Older Cities Task Force, is also the sponsor of the Neighborhood Reclamation & Revitalization Act of 2007, a bill that, if approved, would provide municipalities that have a history of continued population loss since 1980, a vacant housing problem, and a comprehensive plan to demolish that housing with an opportunity to apply to HUD for both funding for demolition and a study for how newly vacant land should be redeveloped.
Below is a copy of Congressman Higgins’ recent letter to HUD:
August 20, 2008
The Honorable Steven Preston
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street SW
Washington, DC 20410-0002
Dear Secretary Preston:
As you create a funding formula for the distribution of emergency Community Development Block Grant funds as provided for by Public Law 110-289, the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act, I strongly urge you to consider the plight of older industrial cities and regions like Western New York. While Western New York may not lead in terms of impact from the immediate foreclosure crisis as compared to other communities, the fact is that it faces its own vacant housing problem that is more chronic, systemic, and prolonged than in almost any other American community. Local leaders across my district struggle on a daily basis with the vacant housing crisis. Vacant properties are one of the top concerns of citizens in the City of Buffalo, and the problem extends into inner ring suburbs like the Town of Cheektowaga, and communities like the City of Jamestown in Chautauqua County.
The relief provided by the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act could act as a step in the right direction for these communities. In the City of Buffalo alone, it is estimated that there are more than 20,000 vacant properties in some form of foreclosure or delinquency. That is an extraordinary number, and the stark fiscal realities facing local and state governments make the problem much more difficult to manage, both in the short-run as funds must be prioritized to immediately demolish properties that act as severe blights, and in the long-run as communities do not possess the resources necessary to truly and comprehensively address how the vacant housing crisis will affect planning and land use decisions in the future.
It is imperative, then, that as you construct the funding formula for dispensation of funds to local and state governments, you consider the prolonged vacant housing problem that exists in older industrial regions like Buffalo and Western New York. The criteria provided by Congress for HUD to consider provides ample flexibility to provide substantive relief for communities, like those that I represent, that have been dealing with the vacant housing crisis over a protracted period of time.
The formula you create has the potential to help these communities turn a corner for a more stabilized future amid tumultuous economic times. First and foremost, funds must be targeted to help these struggling communities isolate and target discrete neighborhoods where vacant homes can actually be purchased and rehabbed quickly and affordably, or in the alternative, where demolishing homes and piecing together land-banks for future re-use may be more appropriate. Relief that is targeted will have a substantial and demonstrable impact on communities that are currently forced to triage, sometimes haphazardly - when dealing with vacant, foreclosed homes across large census tracts.
In addition, significant consideration must be made for the reality that too many vacant homes constitute blight, and are public health and safety hazards for neighborhoods. Many of these homes are beyond salvation and repair, and while local governments may have slated them for demolition, resources simply can’t keep up with the problem. For communities facing high vacancy rates, I would urge your formula to provide accommodations for the need by local governments to restore homes that can be restored and tear down homes that are beyond repair.
Vacant homes that have historical or architectural significance to their communities should be considered as prime candidates for purchase and rehabilitation as you develop your funding formula. These types of homes usually hold particular relevance to their communities, and if they sit vacant for long periods, have the potential to act as negative symbols of decline and blight. Using this formula to transform these structures from symbols of decline to symbols of optimism will have a significant effect on communities and markets by injecting fresh energy and inspiring confidence among citizens.
In putting together this funding formula, HUD has a unique opportunity to provide targeted and helpful relief to communities – like those in Western New York - that have been struggling to deal with their vacant housing problem for quite some time. I strongly urge you to consider the plight of these communities over the coming days and weeks as you carry out the ambit of the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act.
Member of Congress
Washington, DC Office
Erie County Office
431 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Larkin at Exchange
726 Exchange Street
Buffalo, NY 14210
Chautauqua County Office
2 East Second Street
Jamestown, NY 14701