Federal Bill Sets Up Housing Demolition Grant Program
BUFFALO, NY – City of Buffalo Common Council President David Franczyk joined Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) to announce new legislation filed in the House of Representatives aimed at setting up a federal grant program that supports the demolition of vacant, dilapidated houses making way for new development and neighborhood revitalization.
“Vacant homes, blight, and declining neighborhoods aren’t problems unique to Buffalo and Western New York, they are issues older communities are struggling with nationwide,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “This bill would help the neediest communities in our country, including Buffalo, demolish vacant homes that act as a scourge on the neighborhoods they inhabit, breed crime and further disinvestment, and by and large, due to years of decay and neglect, have no marketable or significant architectural value.”
Under the Neighborhood Reclamation and Revitalization Program Act of 2007, municipalities that have a history of continued population loss since 1980, a vacant housing problem, and a comprehensive plan to demolish that housing would be eligible to apply to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for both funding for demolition and a study for how newly vacant land should be redeveloped. Grantees would be required to report back to HUD on the projects’ progress one year after the grant has been awarded.
“I applaud Congressman Higgins’ bill aimed at directing substantial federal resources to help tackle the terrible problem of blighted properties in Buffalo,” said Council President Franczyk. “The vast majority of calls my Council office receives are complaints about dilapidated homes and buildings that are a grave threat to public health and safety. Once these dangerous eyesores are removed, the city will be greatly aided in its mission to revitalize and strengthen neighborhoods hard hit by these derelict properties.”
Congressman Higgins began work on this bill months ago following several vacant house fires in the City of Buffalo, the most serious of which caused significant injuries to Buffalo firefighter Mark Reed, which have strained the limited resources of local first responders.
“The demolition of vacant homes allowed under this bill would not only help stabilize long-struggling neighborhoods, it would alleviate the fiscal strain felt by local governments who are required to maintain the infrastructure that support these homes, as well as abating the health and safety hazards these homes cause,” added Higgins.
Recently, census reports have ranked Buffalo as one of the poorest cities in the nation, with the Buffalo-Niagara poverty rate reaching over 14%. By demolishing vacant homes that are beyond repair, the overall quality of the housing stock in Buffalo neighborhoods would improve, alleviating some of the strain that poverty wreaks on local government.
Congressman Higgins’ bill would also give municipalities the opportunity to study and assess how land, once vacated, could be redeveloped into a more productive use. The intent of these studies would be to ensure, to the extent feasible, that the timeline from demolition to revitalization is as brief as possible, given the difficult market environment in these communities. In this study process, municipalities could engage local groups in their re-use plans, looking at creative ways to reconfigure and update infrastructure, explore the concept of urban farming and community gardens, and other innovative ways that would bring new vibrancy to neighborhoods.
The bill, filed in the House of Representatives on Friday, September 7, authorizes appropriations of $100 million over three years: $20 million for fiscal year 2009; $30 million for fiscal year 2010; and $50 million for fiscal year 2011. Funds granted as a part of this program would be considered supplemental to funds communities already receive through other HUD grant programs.