02.23.09

AS VACANT HOUSING CRISIS CONTINUES TO PLAGUE BUFFALO AREA...SCHUMER, HIGGINS ANNOUNCE MAJOR PUSH TO BRING PILOT PROGRAM TO WNY TO REBUILD & REHAB VACANT HOMES; WOULD DELIVER ADDITIONAL FUNDS TO FIGHT THE HOUSING BLIGHT

Over 12,000 Vacant Properties in Western New York Are Choking Neighborhood Rejuvenation, Dragging Down Property Values in City and Suburban Neighborhoods, & Draining Local ResourcesSchumer, Higgins Introduce Their New Bill to Implement Strategic Programs to Combat the Vacant Housing Crisis - Provide Grant Funding to WNYStanding at a Vacant Home on the Buffalo/Cheektowa Border, Schumer and Higgins Vow to Fight to Ensure Buffalo Is One of 15 Cities From Around The Country

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Brian Higgins today announced their new legislation to help combat the vacant housing blight in the Buffalo area and across the country. The new legislation would create a pilot program, which Schumer and Higgins today vowed to fight to implement in Buffalo, that would send grants and flexible funding to 15 small cities and 15 large cities across the country to help address vacant properties. The legislation is a new and innovative approach to fighting the vacant housing problem that has been exacerbated by rising foreclosures.
 
"We must do something to stop the vacant housing crisis in Western New York and this legislation fits the bill," Schumer said. "The vacant housing crisis chokes rejuvenation, drags down property values in both the city and the suburbs, and puts a drain on our local resources. This bill will deliver additional funds to the region and start to implement new strategies to combat the vacant housing blight. I am going to fight for this bill and I am going to fight for Western New York to be one of the first regions in the country to get the funds."
 
 "Western New York communities are suffering profoundly from the repercussions of pervasive vacant housing," said Congressman Higgins, Cochair of the Congressional Revitalizing Older Cities Task Force.  "This legislation would provide a new level of federal commitment to one of the most pressing problems crushing our neighborhoods and encourage municipalities to work together to address this problem."
 
There are over 12,000 vacant properties in the Buffalo region that are severely hurting property values and neighborhood rejuvenation. The blight costs the area significant resources in lost taxes, debris removal, inspections and policing. Vacant houses are also sources for arson, drug dealing, and other crimes. Scholars and housing advocates argue the problem of vacant housing is a major barrier in efforts to rejuvenate neighborhoods and raise property values across an area.
 
Standing at a vacant home in the town of Cheektowaga, Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins today introduced the Community Regeneration Act that would create new, competitive demonstration programs to provide funding and incentives to assist communities in developing innovative strategies to address the vacant housing crisis. The legislation is designed to provide flexible funding to cities like Buffalo for developing innovative strategies including starting or expanding land banks, encouraging innovation with regard to environmentally sustainable practices, and promoting multijurisdictional or regional approaches to addressing the problem of vacant and abandoned properties.  In the Western New York area, Cheektowaga, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, Jamestown and Erie County would also be eligible to apply for funding under the provisions in the bill.
 
Schumer and Higgins today vowed to fight to ensure Buffalo would be one of the 15 large cities chosen for the pilot program, saying that it would give a good boost of additional funding to the region to help with their efforts in combating the housing blight. Schumer and Higgins said that because they were introducing and fighting for the bill in Congress, there would be a high likelihood that the program would be implemented in Buffalo. Schumer and Higgins also said that Buffalo fits the bill's eligibility requirements for the pilot program, including significant population and employment loss over a period of years, resulting in widespread property vacancy and abandonment.
 
The new bill, The Community Regeneration Act, would:
 
  • Establish a threeyear, $300 million demonstration program that would select 15 small cities and 15 large cities experiencing large scale property vacancy and abandonment. Once selected, a city like Buffalo could use the funding to address its specific vacancy issues, including establishment or expansion of local regional land banks, deconstruction and demolition of vacant and abandoned properties, development of green infrastructure including renewable energy production, the adaptive reuse of architecturally, historically or culturally significant structures and the development of comprehensive plans to address vacant properties.
 
  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide grants of up to $250,000 to communities to help fund the planning and development process. It would also authorize a competitive innovative grants program for specific shortterm demonstration projects. Projects would include designing and creating green infrastructure, the establishment of recycling systems for recovered building materials, and/or the development of urban agriculture initiaties. The program would receive $25 million for the first year, and $12.5 million for each of the last two years.
 
  • Create a new council - the Federal Interagency Regeneration Communities Coordinating Council - that would include representatives from relevant federal agencies. The Council would develop federal agency support plans for the cities where the pilot program is implemented, offering technical assistance to grantees. The council would receive $24 million in funding.
 
"I thank Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins for their leadership and for developing this creative federal legislation that could have a significantly positive impact on cities like Buffalo," said Mayor Byron W. Brown. "We have been fighting against the negative impact of vacant, dilapidated structures, dedicating precious financial resources to the necessary demolition of structures beyond repair and, more recently, working with nonprofit groups to fund the rehabilitation of salvageable properties. But the creation of a pilot project in Buffalo through the proposed Community Regeneration Act would help us dramatically reduce vacant structures that harm our residents' quality of life."
 
"In Cheektowaga we recognize that real solutions to vacant housing issues are best achieved by working cooperatively with our municipal partners as evidenced by ongoing progress made through the Buffalo/Cheektowaga Neighborhood Revitalization Task Force," said Town of Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz.  "I applaud the efforts of Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins to recognize the stress vacant properties put on our neighborhoods and to fight for the assistance local communities desperately need to address these issues."



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