Strategies for Equitable Growth in Western New York
Marisa Casellas-Barnes, Associate Director, Communications and Outreach
The New York Fed held a third listening session on strategies for equitable growth and development on September 26 in Buffalo, New York. This series is part of our continued efforts to understand neighborhood change and trends related to displacement in the Second District.
Hosted in collaboration with ILR Buffalo Co-Lab (Cornell University) and the Partnership for the Public Good, this convening brought together nonprofits, academics, and housing experts who have been focused on developing tools to combat displacement in Buffalo’s changing neighborhoods.
This listening session began with a regional update from a New York Fed economist, followed by presentations on local housing trends and regional neighborhood change from academics and nonprofit organizations. Experts then participated in a roundtable discussion to offer best practices, strategies, and tools to promote development without displacement.
From the discussion, the following themes and solutions emerged:
- Cities and neighborhoods could be in a better position to mitigate the negative impacts of neighborhood revitalization on vulnerable communities by shifting to a community-led development framework. The goal would be to build inclusive communities over the long term by bringing governance and decision-making about housing and affordability to the neighborhood level. This theme was central to the conversation and provided the foundation for each best practice mentioned by participants.
- More community land trusts (CLTs) are needed in the city of Buffalo and surrounding suburban areas also experiencing rapid neighborhood change. A CLT is a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces, and other assets on behalf of a community. One community leader mentioned that CLTs and urban planning more broadly could be enhanced through artificial intelligence and machine learning. The idea is to use satellite images of neighborhoods and algorithms to better understand neighborhood conditions, which in turn could guide and improve city planning governance.
- The creation of the first CLT in Buffalo, Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, was a result of community-led development efforts. The Fruit Belt is a historically black neighborhood on Buffalo’s east side. The neighborhood began to change as a result of the expansion of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which covers 120 acres and has 17,000 employees. Listening session participants who led the design and implementation of the Fruit Belt CLT mentioned that long-term residents experienced displacement pressure as a result of certain changes to the neighborhood, including: (1) rising rents due to changing demographics and an increase in medical campus workers; (2) a decline in available street parking, which particularly affected elderly or disabled residents; and (3) the affordability of goods and services.
- The collaboration between community-based organizations and residents produced policy outcomes, such as a moratorium on the sale of city-owned lots. The ultimate goal of the Fruit Belt CLT is to keep generational wealth by building a community-controlled economy.
- In addition to CLTs, worker-owned cooperatives in the city of Buffalo and in the region at large are needed. Worker-owned cooperatives are business enterprises that are owned and governed by their employees.
- Buffalo and its surrounding areas could benefit from an “early warning” system or tool to track trends within every census tract and utilize data visualization to map communities and neighborhoods. Mapping tools similar to the one described by participants have been used in New York City, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and other major metropolitan areas where regional data analysis on evictions, violations, and property sales helps policymakers better understand the nature and drivers of gentrification. From this analysis, neighborhood typologies are developed to help communities better classify risks.
- A comprehensive evaluation of existing affordable housing units and policies is needed to determine if tenant needs are being met. Such an assessment would look at not only the quality of rental properties, but also how much access residents have to resources, such as healthcare, quality schools, and jobs. For example, one participant mentioned that current housing vouchers are contributing to racial and economic segregation, not preventing it — and that is something that might be measured by such a survey.
- Rising commercial rents often accompany neighborhood change and shifts in demographics. Longtime small businesses owners in Buffalo — especially minorities — have experienced increased displacement pressure as a result of neighborhood changes. Participants noted that non-traditional financing sources, such as microloans and crowdfunding, could quickly allow mom-and-pop store owners to grow and scale their businesses.
- Transportation deserts are heightening racial and economic segregation, both within and around the city of Buffalo. Progressive urban planning and transportation policies that meet the needs of underserved populations — such as those without automobiles — could contribute to greater labor force participation among long-term residents.
This Buffalo gathering followed earlier sessions in New York City and Lake Placid. The New York Fed will continue the conversation around best practices for equitable growth in the Second District, with another convening planned for Newark, New Jersey.