Buffalo's "Neighborhoods of Choice" Program
The City of Buffalo is ready to preserve and save some choice residential neighborhoods through city and private funding sources, starting in 2008.
Phase 1 of the program targets the Hamlin Park area, and Phase 2 will concentrate on the Grant-Ferry District. Neighborhoods of Choice are characterized as residential areas that offer a host of amenities, both environmental and commercial. From the August 2007 City of Buffalo Neighborhoods of Choice: Part of the Mayor's Livable Communities Initiative booklet, the targeted areas have: …historic homes of unparalleled beauty, easy access to parks, parkways and waterways, proximity to vibrant commercial streets, [and are] near institutions of higher learning and other community assets.
Phase 1 funding breaks down as follows:
City of Buffalo.........................................$1,000,000
Capital Improvement Program.................$1,000,000
*Community Development Block Grant
The idea is to fix and regrow neighborhoods in an effort to create overall improvements in the city's offerings to current residents and potential homeowners. In conjunction with the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors and Citizens Bank, the program seeks to increase home ownership through planning, rehabilitation and marketing residences, as well as improving the neighborhood infrastructure.
Hamlin Park, a century old neighborhood flanking Olmsted's Humbolt Parkway, is designated as a HUD approved Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) and is therefore eligible for CDBG funding. Grant Ferry is considered a Neighborhood of Choice by virtue of its links to Olmsted's Richmond Avenue parkway and its proximity to the Niagara River and Elmwood Village.
The good news for owner/residents is that there is funding available for up to 50% of the cost of home improvements, up to $30K. One and two-family structures that are owner-occupied are eligible once they meet approval by the Office of Strategic Planning, are without code violations, and have matching funds, whether from savings or an approved lender. Half of the city funds must be repaid, as agreed, during a 15-year term at 2% interest, at which time the city will forgive the other half.
As a conditional grant to the homeowner, lead-based paint remediation, conducted by an EPA certified lead contractor, will be paid for by the city. All loan costs, as well as this grant will be contingent on the homeowner occupying the home during the entire term of the loan.
Furthermore, down payment and closing costs on marketable houses in the designated areas will be covered up to a maximum of $10K, and will be forgiven after 5 years if the house is owner-occupied during that time. The sale of the house before that time will require reimbursement of these costs.
As an even further boost for low to moderate income owner-occupants and buyers (those who fall at or below 80% of area median income levels), there is a deferred loan program that offers $25K for a single family unit or $35K for a double, with partial repayment at no interest on a monthly basis. Depending on income level and the ability to pay, part of the loan will be forgiven.
Again, the home must be owner-occupied, brought into compliance with housing codes, and lead-free, but there is federal funding through the HOME program that will cover the compliance costs if the home is owner-occupied throughout a 10-year regulatory period. This is all good news for homeowners who plan on staying in their homes, and want to see their neighborhoods revitalized.
The only downside will befall those property owners who don't comply with city housing codes. These neighborhoods will be under the close scrutiny of the commissioner of the Economic Development Permit and Inspection Services, who will begin code enforcement actions. Code violations will be sent to the property owners, along with funding sources. Monthly updates will be noted on properties in code violation and those in non-compliance will be brought to housing court.
One of the goals in the rehabilitation and resale of properties in these targeted areas is to remedy vacant properties and deteriorated rental properties. Once renovated, the properties will be sold to people of various income levels in an effort to maintain a mixed-income community.