$50 million investment in 'East Buffalo' unveiled in wake of Tops shooting

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - After marching in the Buffalo Juneteenth parade Saturday morning, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $50 million investment in the east side of Buffalo that many in the community are now referring to as 'East Buffalo'.

The funding targets homeowners and the majority of the funding will go toward housing and social services she said during a press briefing at the Apollo Media Center Saturday afternoon.

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"This is my home," stated Hochul as she unveiled plans to offer about 1,000 homeowners grants to improve their homes. "You've seen the houses on the east side of Buffalo," said Hochul in emphasizing the need to offer assistance in improving the condition of homes.

Hochul also announced plans for a special 5-14 commission that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown will lead and come up with a lasting way to commemorate the ten lives lost in the May 14 mass shooting at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue that was racially motivated.

Food Security

Food insecurity remains the most immediately urgent and clearly the longest-standing systemic issue in East Buffalo. The closure of Tops has severely exacerbated the pre-existing food insecurity and food access issues, and it is imperative that there is notable investment in community-based and community-led food access.

In a first-of-its-kind State investment in East Buffalo, Empire State Development will invest $3 million in the African Heritage Food Cooperative, a collection of organizations that will create a locally-owned and operated food co-operative that will ensure the community has access to affordable and healthy food options.

In addition, to facilitate access to more food options for the residents of the neighborhood immediately surrounding Tops, the State will be providing a free shuttle from outside the Merriweather Library and the Resource Council of Western New York to the Price Rite grocery store on Elmwood Avenue until the re-opening of Tops, which is scheduled for late July 2022. The shuttle service will begin on Sunday, July 19. The shuttle will run every 30 minutes from 10 AM until 7 PM daily starting Monday, June 20. On Sunday July 19, the shuttle will run from 10 AM until 4 PM.

This service builds on the NFTA’s existing fare holiday, which has also been extended until the end of July (including for associated paratransit service) for the following routes:

12 – Utica – Connects the East and West Side of Buffalo with the Utica and University Metro Rail stations.  13 – Kensington – Connects East Ferry Street and Bailey Avenue with Erie County Medical Center and Utica and University Metro Rail stations.  18 – Jefferson – Connects Cold Springs/Hamlin Park with the Masten, Fruit Belt and Emslie neighborhoods along Jefferson Avenue.  24 – Genesee – Connects residents of the East Side of Buffalo to Downtown and the Airport along Genesee Street.  Small Business and Workforce Development

Decades of disinvestment and the lack of community wealth have created severe challenges for East Buffalo small businesses. In order to help area small businesses stabilize and ultimately thrive, the State is investing $7 million in both capital and operating grants for businesses in the 14208 and 14209 ZIP Codes. Capital grants will be made up to $100,000, and operating grants for up to $50,000.

The State will also invest $1.5 million to partner with Goodwill to expand the ‘Goodskills’ Career Builder Program for East Buffalo. This program will build off the Goodskills pilot program launched in 2021 and will equip individuals from communities in East Buffalo with the skills employers seek to fill higher-paying, in-demand jobs in manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and sales and services. Goodwill plans to open a new ‘Goodskills’ facility directly down the street from the Tops.

Housing and Social Services

Historic redlining and modern predatory lending practices have significantly destabilized housing in East Buffalo and stymied the ability for individuals, families, and the community to build wealth. As a down payment on a longer-term investment in housing, the State is taking immediate steps to assist struggling homeowners in East Buffalo.

The State will invest $34.5 million, including:

$20 million for New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the Department of Taxation and Finance to serve up to 4,000 homeowners in need of tax, water, and sewage arrears assistance with an average award of $5,000;  $10 million to serve up to 1,000 homeowners with homes in need of serious repairs with an average award of $10,000; and  $4.5 million to serve up to 150 homeowners who will have access to down payment assistance with an average award of $30,000.  In addition to assisting homeowners, the State is announcing a $2 million “Public Engagement Unit” pilot program with Erie County and the City of Buffalo to contract with one or more local organizations to provide direct, one-on-one intensive benefits access and case management services, as local service provider organizations have identified a notable gap between the availability of benefits and services and their utilization. The underutilization of services can often prevent low-income residents from being able to work towards economic stability and security.

The unit, which would launch later this year, is intended to consist of a highly-trained, specialized case management specialists that can identify specific social services, housing, and similar needs, take immediate action to address these needs, and make referrals (and track progress) of benefits cases. When possible, specialists will conduct door-to-door outreach to ensure residents have direct access to assistance. Examples of benefits and services that the team would provide direct access to include, but are not limited to:

-SNAP, Public Assistance  STAR exemptions  Medicaid, Medicare, and other Health Exchange options
-Children’s Health Insurance Plan and State Children’s Health Insurance Plan
-Assistance with arrears
-Assistance with programs related to home code compliance