Buffalo News Features Dolores Powell: PUSH Member

It's always nice to see a PUSH member getting it done. Big ups to Dolores! Straight from the Buff News (the original is here): West Side mother is a one-woman restoration movement Lauded for restoring house, aiding area By Deidre Williams, Photo by Charles Lewis/Buffalo News Updated: 04/28/08 9:44 AM Delores Powell had wanted to purchase the run-down, vacant house next to her Massachusetts Avenue home, but it’s so far gone that it has to be demolished. Across the street, a mammoth hole remains where a dilapidated, abandoned house once stood. Next to that sits a big, beat-up, worn-out old home with the windows busted out. Once grand and dignified, it hasn’t been lived in or taken care of for years. This is not the environment the single mother envisioned for her family when she moved to the West Side neighborhood four years ago. When Powell, a Jamaican immigrant, purchased the house — her first — she didn’t know it was barely habitable and in such disrepair. Despite the setbacks and complications, Powell — who first visited Buffalo in 2002 — has worked hard to call this community and this house home for herself and her four children, who live at home and attend Buffalo Public Schools. “I knew I would move here. I knew I wanted to make this city home,” said Powell, who often works double shifts as a certified nurse’s assistant at a local nursing home. Before the family could move in, though, Powell had to remove graffiti, build scaffolding and paint the exterior and interior. Then she had to put up drywall, bust out walls and refinish all the interior woodwork. “She literally learned trade skills, and that’s pretty rare,” said Aaron Bartley, director of PUSH — People United for Sustainable Housing — a grass-roots group working to rebuild the West Side. Whatever extra money she had, she used to renovate the house. No government money. No loans. No grants. Just sweat equity. Still, the problems just kept coming. Raw sewage backed up in her basement four times. The family went through two winters huddled in one room with a propane heater. “She’s the perfect example of a single mother doing everything right,” said County Legislator Maria Whyte, who honored Powell last month in a Legislature session recognizing Women’s History Month. “She’s working her tail off, doing double shifts and just trying to get the pieces together so her kids can have a better life than she did,” Whyte said. The properties around her are struggling, too. Neglected vacant lots provide unsafe playing conditions for children, harbor illegal activities, attract garbage and lower the values of nearby homes, critics say. The house next to Powell’s and another across the street are on PUSH’s list of the 20 worst West Side homes in terms of the level of deterioration and danger, Bartley said. “She’s surrounded by neglect. She’s surrounded by issues of abandonment and vacant property,” he added. So are other residents of Massachusetts Avenue, some of whom are working with the West Side Community Collaborative. The coalition of neighborhood organizations has been trying to rid the streets of crime and slumlords since it was formed in December 2000, by using a strategy that includes alert police work, tough court actions and grass-roots efforts to board up abandoned houses and paint occupied homes. Money is also needed to fund the efforts. The state created a $3 million residential rehabilitation program, called Block by Block, in which nonprofits and city government can apply for the competitive grant, said Richard Tobe, the city’s development, permits and inspections chief. The money can be used for rehabilitation work costing as much as $45,000 per unit, none of it for demolitions. The city already has applied, and so have some nonprofits, Tobe said, adding he does not know when the entities will hear back on a decision. Powell, meanwhile, finds time to beautify the neighborhood by mowing not only her lawn but also the lawns of vacant properties. She plants flowers, constantly removes graffiti and cleans up litter. dswilliams@buffnews.com