News Clips

WBFO 88.7 FM - October 2, 2014

Charter school children help build a rain garden

By Eillen Buckley

Students from the Elmwood Village Charter School got a lesson outside the classroom Wednesday. In this Focus on Education report WBFO's Eileen Buckley says the school received a grant to install a rain garden next to the school's parking lot on Hudson Street.

Listen Here

WBFO 88.7 FM - May 23, 2014                                                                                                                        

PUSH Buffalo releases plan to address energy affordability

By Ashley Hirtzel

The report aims to address the growing energy affordability crisis and is entitled ‘Achieving Energy Democracy: A vision for community-based energy policy in New York State.’ 

The plan suggests the state broaden access to home energy efficiency programs, giving home owners incentives to better insulate their homes and replace outdated furnaces. 

Executive Director of PUSH Buffalo Aaron Bartley says the time for bold action to reform our energy infrastructure is now. He says the organization's proposal would create jobs locally and give consumers more control over energy costs. 

“The second thing that we’re proposing is that the state needs to propose some higher standards when it comes to producing renewable energy. States like California, New Jersey are ahead of New York State when it comes to incentivizing solar. One of things we really like about solar is that it’s something that’s produced in a decentralized way. You don’t need a big factory to produce electricity through solar energy, every homeowner can do it. It gives that homeowner more power over their energy future and their energy consumption,” said Bartley.

The PUSH Buffalo proposal is also in line with the Green Jobs Green New York, a statewide program that promotes energy efficiency and the installation of clean technologies to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Assemblyman Sean Ryan says the program allows homeowners to receive reduced cost or free energy assessments depending on income through the Public Service Commission. 

“We know in New York State it’s cheaper for us to help people insulate their homes than it is to build brand new power plants. So, it makes dollars and cents in the long run if you attack the consumption side of it rather than keep trying to more capacity in more capacity,” said Ryan. 

The state’s 2014 Draft Energy Plan will continue to take public comment through May 30th. 

read story here

The Buffalo News - May 23, 2014
PUSH Buffalo releases community-based energy plan

By Harold McNeil

PUSH Buffalo has released a community-based energy plan as a public comment in response Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2014 Draft State Energy Plan. 

Aaron Bartley, executive director of the organization, said the plan calls for a bold reform of Buffalo’s energy infrastructure by decentralizing energy production and harnessing more renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geo-thermal, which are among the ideas espoused in Cuomo’s draft report. 

“States like California (and) New Jersey ... are ahead of New York State when it comes to (encouraging the use of) solar energy. And one of the things we’re really high about with solar is that its produced in a decentralized way,” Bartley said. 

Unlike traditional forms of energy production, it doesn’t require a factory to produce electricity through solar energy, he said.

“Every homeowner can do it. So it gives that homeowner more power over their energy future and their energy consumption,” he said. 

PUSH officials said their plan, which is being delivered to the State Public Service Commission, is culled from a community-based perspective and aims to show that local communities can take the lead in reforming the delivery of their energy systems, which also could lead to the creation of new jobs in those communities.

“The problems are largely in our communities,” he said, noting much of Buffalo’s housing stock predates World War II.

Bartley said geo-thermal energy can be produced by using some of the vacant land in Buffalo. “On the West Side of Buffalo, we have a house that is being heated through a vacant lot. There’s no furnace in that house,” he said.

PUSH also seeks to increase the number of community-based weatherization programs, so that homeowners – particularly those with older homes – are able to reduce their consumption of electricity and natural gas in order to save money.

Teresa Figueroa explained how an energy audit of her West Side home performed by New Buffalo Impact, a leader in the Green and Healthy Homes movement, ultimately led to her home operating in a more energy-efficient manner, reducing her energy bills.

“With the changing of windows and other improvements, now my house is warm and I can live in it comfortably,” Figueroa said.

read story here

The Buffalo News - Sept. 3, 2010
$500K grant to boost Grant - Ferry district

The Grant-Ferry business district will be improved as part of a$500,000 grant from the state.

The grant, announced by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, will help restore old storefronts, improve the street-scape along Grant Street and help neighborhood businesses to grow.

“This will really help rebuild Grant Street in a way we haven’t seen before,” said Michael Clarke of the Buffalo office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

The revitalization will be overseen by PUSH Buffalo, a West Side neighborhood group. - Sept. 3, 2010
PUSH Buffalo demands fair conservation program from National Fuel
by Christopher Smith

Earlier today, PUSH Members, joined by State Senator William Stachowski and Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, gathered outside the Public Service Commission Office in Buffalo. They were there to formally submit public comments which urged the Public Service Commission to reject National Fuel’s Conservation Incentive Program (CIP) petition and require a program that works for the community, instead of one that passes costs on to customers who can least afford it. PUSH leaders gave personal testimony on the high cost of high heating bills, as well as a discussion about community solutions to the problem.

National Fuel has submitted a formal request to the Public Service Commission to extend its CIP program. PUSH has sought a dialogue with National Fuel CEO David Smith about ways the program could be improved to reduce heating costs and create jobs in Buffalo’s low-income neighborhoods. Thus far, the company has rebuffed PUSH’s request to offer community input.

“National Fuel fails to pay for its own CIP, instead shifting the cost to its customers,” said PUSH leader Bob Cook. “The program is funded by a surcharge on customer bills, authorized by the Public Service Commission in National Fuel’s most recent rate case and the $10.8 million that National Fuel puts into the program amounts to approximately $22 per customer” Cook continued.

According to a study in Forbes, Buffalo is the 4th most expensive city to heat in the country. This forces Buffalonians to make tough choices to meet daily needs and this burden falls heaviest on the city’s poorest residents. Despite having disproportionately high heating costs, low-income customers receive less than 30% of CIP aid. Marketing, evaluation, and appliance rebates targeting well-capitalized homeowners account for the bulk of the budget.

PUSH believes a real Conservation Incentive Program would include the following:

  • A strengthened emphasis on weatherization in low-income neighborhoods, including clear reporting requirements so that the program’s impact is transparent.
  • A requirement that weatherization projects funded through CIP create “pathways out of poverty” by requiring that contractors train and hire workers from high-poverty census tracts and meet standards for the use of women and minority-owned contractors.
  • Stronger integration with other programmatic weatherization efforts, including the Weatherization Assistance Program and Green Jobs - Green New York.

PUSH urged the Public Service Commission to place National Fuel’s petition to extend its Conservation Incentive Program (CIP) on hold until the company engages in a substantive dialogue about how to best employ resources to meet the critical heating and conservation needs of low-income customers in Buffalo’s neighborhoods.

The Buffalo News - Aug. 9, 2010
Roney, Pearce gain law honors
by Matt Gryta

The managing partner of a big Buffalo law firm and a Buffalo lawyer recently named to President Obama’s administration are among those being honored at the Minority Bar Association of Western New York’s 28th annual awards and scholarship dinner. The banquet will be Sept. 16 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Susan C. Roney, managing partner of the Buffalo office of the international law firm Nixon Peabody will be presented the President’s Award in recognition of her “leadership and unwavering commitment to diversity.”

Mark Gaston Pearce, a Buffalo labor lawyer appointed by Obama to the five-member National Labor Relations Board, will be presented the Trailblazer Award in light of that appointment and his “outstanding achievements” locally in labor law and in championing diversity.

Eric Walker of PUSH Buffalo and David Stapleton of David Homes will be given a joint Community Service Award for what the bar group called their inspirational neighborhood revitalization efforts on the city’s West Side.

An Education Award will be shared by Barbara A. Sherk, UB Law School’s director of academic support, and Lillie V. Wiley-Upshaw, UB Law’s vice dean for admissions and financial aid, for their work in assisting minority students and their commitments to diversity.

Jessica M. Lazarin, the Minority’s Bar’s recent past president, will be presented a Legal Service Award, for “tireless efforts” on behalf of the local Volunteer Lawyer’s Project and her role in launching the bar group’s successful Recruitment and Retention Task Force.

Sartoria Donova, head of Urban Professionals of WNY Inc., will be presented a Business Person of the Year Award for her “vision in establishing an organization that regularly and successfully brings minority professionals and aspiring students together for networking and mentoring,” said Sheldon K. Smith, president of the 40-year-old Minority Bar organization.

During the dinner, which begins at 5:30 p. m., UB law students Erica Smith and Duwaine T. Bascoe also will be honored. Smith, about to begin her third year at UB Law School, will be honored as the bar group’s latest John L. Hargrave Scholarship winner for her demonstrated support of the Minority Bar group and its mission.

Bascoe, about to begin his second year there, is the latest winner of the Marie Nesbitt Promise Prize for his scholastic achievements and his strong concerns for public service and diversity.

The Buffalo News - July 28, 2010
Grant gives ‘vacancy-free’ zone a boost
by Phil Fairbanks

The creation of a “vacancyfree” neighborhood on Buffalo’s West Side will be the first major project funded as part of a new program to remedy upstate New York’s abandoned-housing crisis.

A 20-block area west of Richmond Avenue and south of West Ferry Street—once home to 115 vacant structures — will be revitalized with the help of a $500,000 grant announced Tuesday by Gov. David A. Paterson.

The goal is to transform a neighborhood now struggling with abandoned housing into a neighborhood without a single vacant home.

“We think this can be the start of something important,” said Michael Weber, Paterson’s top housing adviser.

The money, part of the first wave of grants from Paterson’s Sustainable Neighborhoods Program, will allow PUSH Buffalo to keep its vacancy-free strategy on track.

The grant will pay for the rehabilitation of three vacant buildings and the demolition of a fourth structure, the latest step in a strategy that has so far resulted in the rehabilitation of 60 buildings.

“This will build on our momentum to create a vacancyfree zone that is quickly becoming a model for community-led green development,” said Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo.

PUSH has already rehabilitated three buildings and is currently working on seven other properties. Dozens of other vacant homes have been rehabilitated by private owners, City Hall and Homefront, another neighborhood group.

The zone is bounded by Richmond Avenue, West Ferry, Hampshire, 15th and Vermont streets.

“It’s a worthy investment because it could solidify a community that might otherwise spiral downward,” said Michael A. Skrebutenas, deputy commissioner of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

The West Side was not the only city neighborhood under consideration by the state. The others included the Fruit Belt and the neighborhood around Martin Luther King Park.

Skrebutenas said PUSH’s proposal emerged from the pool of eligible projects as a clear front-runner, in part because of the group’s energy, creativity and past performance.

The project will be funded as part of Paterson’s Sustainable Neighborhoods Program, a new initiative designed to help upstate cities devastated by vacant housing.

Nowhere is that crisis more acute than in Buffalo, home to the highest vacancy rate in the state and one of the highest in the nation. Various studies estimate Buffalo’s vacancy rate at between 15 and 20 percent.

“Buffalo’s distinction in New York State is obviously unfortunate,” Skrebutenas said, “and I don’t think the governor wants to preside over that distinction.”

Paterson’s strategy is to address the regional crisis by creating affordable homeowner-ship opportunities by rehabilitating abandoned buildings and making them available to first-time homebuyers.

“Too many abandoned and neglected properties are eroding the quality of life in communities throughout upstate,” the governor said in a statement Tuesday.

In PUSH, state officials think they have a group that can serve as a one-of-a-kind model on how to deal with vacant housing. “Resources are scarce everywhere in the country,” Bartley said. “Any success we have in acquiring those resources in this environment is a positive thing.”

PUSH’s vacancy-free zone is part of a larger “Green Development” strategy that includes the revitalization of vacant lots and public spaces with an emphasis on creating good-quality jobs as part of its investment in the neighborhood.

The project, a collaboration of PUSH, Homefront and the Massachusetts Avenue Project, builds on many of the neighborhood’s success stories, including the urban youth farm on Massachusetts Avenue and the 60 out-of-school young people enrolled in an AmeriCorps training and employment program. Behind it all is the goal of right-sizing the neighborhood so it mirrors its current population and economy and, in the process, becomes a model of green-designed urban revitalization.

The Buffalo News - July 9, 2010
Knock-knock, but Dave isn’t opening door
by Donn Esmond

It’s OK, Dave. You can answer the door. These people mean no harm. In fact, I think they can do you some good. But first you have to let them in. They know you’re in there. The parking lot at the National Fuel building is full every working day. Turning out the lights and hiding in the back until the ringing stops may work in the short run. But these people do not give up easily. They will be back.

Knock-knock. Anybody home?

For months, activists at PUSH—People United for Sustainable Housing— have been trying to have a chat with David Smith. PUSH is the cream of local activist groups, having for years rehabbed houses and propped up neighborhoods on the city’s West Side. That is why they want to talk with Smith. He is the CEO of National Fuel, the company name on most of our heating bills. Winters are long. Houses are old and drafty. Heat is expensive. For many folks, there might be a better way.

That is why 20 PUSH members recently went to National Fuel headquarters in Amherst. They wanted to talk with Smith about the state’s new Green Jobs/Green Homes program. It was not a cold call. PUSH’s Aaron Bartley said that his group has written and called Smith “dozens” of times, requesting a meeting. Other than a polite letter from Smith, outlining the company’s heating-assistance programs, PUSH has gotten nowhere.

So representatives of PUSH recently went knock-knock-knocking on National Fuel’s door. A security guard shooed them away. Reinforcements soon arrived from the Amherst police. The activist “invasion” was repelled. If this were the ’60s, they might have made the cops drag them off the property. But these are more polite times—and, besides, PUSH does not want to push it. It should not have to.

What PUSH wants to talk about would create jobs. It would lower heating bills. It would help the environment. It would cut the number of working people who line up downtown every winter for taxpayer-funded heating assistance. National Fuel might like what it hears, if its ears were not closed by corporate snobbery.

Hello? Dave? Anybody home?

Since National Fuel is not coming to the door, I will send the message. PUSH wants National Fuel to sign on to the state’s Green Jobs/Green Homes program. It helps working-class folks weatherize their drafty old houses, so they do not spend the grocery money on heating bills. It means storm windows, insulation, storm doors and other old-house sealants. Homeowners tap into low-cost loans from a revolving fund. The state already has ponied up $112 million. It needs companies such as National Fuel to add to the pot.

National Fuel racked up an $80 million profit last quarter. Smith’s $4.6 million pay package last year was the most of any local CEO. I think the company should at least lend an ear to a state-backed, activist-approved plan to help the customers who pay the bills.

National Fuel spokeswoman Nancy Taylor told me that Smith has “declined” to meet with PUSH. “We have weatherization programs in place,” she said. “We cannot develop a program just for one neighborhood.”

I hate these sort of misunderstandings. Yes, the program starts with one neighborhood. But PUSH’s aim is to take it regionwide. That is what they want to tell Dave Smith. PUSH activists already found 250 people who need help. The group has 10 contractors who will train people—new jobs—to do the work. The ball is rolling. There are more parts to this, Dave. The PUSH folks will be happy to fill you in. If you open the door.

Knock-knock. Anybody home?

Channel 4 (WIVB) - March 4, 2010
PUSH Buffalo to meet with Bernanke
by Eli George

BUFFALO, N.Y. (RELEASE) - On Tuesday, March 9th, Jennifer Mecozzi, Chair of PUSH Buffalo, will meet with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as part of a national delegation of citizens seeking to protect consumers and investors from predatory and speculative financial products like the ones that crashed the national economy. The delegation will also stress the need to stimulate lending in the form of quality credit to low and moderate income Americans.

Jennifer is joining representatives of National People's Action, a national network of groups like PUSH Buffalo, who together aim to see measurable results from Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke demonstrating that the Fed is working toward desperately needed financial reform and a plan to get the "Main Street" economy moving again.

"The Federal Reserve failed to regulate Big Banks, and as a result, we all lost," said Mecozzi who lives on Buffalo's West Side and works as a cook at the Courtyard Restaurant. "In Buffalo, we lost our jobs, our homes, and our savings while Big Bankers gave themselves huge bonuses and got richer. We need to see real regulation, real financial reform, and real economic development in our backyards."

To address the deep neighborhood and city-wide impact of the crisis, PUSH hosted the second in a series of meeting around the country with District Reserve Banks this past summer. PUSH Buffalo received a commitment from the New York Federal Reserve to work with community groups to bring banks to the table to discuss real economic investment in Buffalo's neighborhoods.

Channel 7 (WKBW) - January 26, 2010
Extreme Watch Party at Shea’s
by Kevin Jolly

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) -- Nearly three-thousand people packed into Shea's Performing Arts Center on Sunday evening for a community celebration of a dream come true for the Powell family of Buffalo.

Last November, the family got a brand new home courtesy of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, David Homes, and the many companies, community organizations, and volunteers who came together.

"All we had was a dream," said "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" Executive Producer Conrad Ricketts.

Ricketts says even with all the network support and star power of Ty Pennington, none of this would have been possible without the people of Western New York...

"It is a community and Buffalo is an example of how that dream can come true," Ricketts told Eyewitness News.

More than six-thousand volunteers worked a combined 53-thousand plus hours and collected more than 85-tons of food during the one week Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was in Buffalo this past November.

"What the Extreme Makeover experience showed us is that we literally have thousands and thousands of people who want to make a change in Buffalo and Western New York...and when they come together and work together there's nothing that we can't accomplish in this community," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown who attended Sunday's event.

Eric Walker of PUSH Buffalo was also in attendance. PUSH was one of the many groups that volunteered for the neighborhood makeover.

"Its a kind of testament to what we knew that people care about the communities and the people, and when they have an idea that they can get behind, they're willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved," said Walker.

Conrad Ricketts says it was one of the biggest volunteer efforts in the history of the show.

"You had AmeriCorps coming in, you had PUSH Buffalo becoming involved, you had Buffalo ReUse involved, but most importantly you have people from all over the city," said Ricketts.

Pam Walker of Kenmore who came down for the event agrees.

"It's a great 'City of Good Neighbors' which it's famous for and that they're very interested in bringing a lot of life and energy and beauty back to the neighborhoods that have that at its core but need some help," said Walker.

Ricketts says some questioned his choice to bring the show to Buffalo, citing the poor economy and how difficult it would be to get people involved. But Ricketts says Buffalo proved the naysayers wrong.

"They talked about are you really sure you want to go into Buffalo? Are you really going to be able to find the people, a builder that's going to help them come together and make a difference? You know what, when we came to Buffalo it was one of our best shows ever because it shows the heart and soul of this nation," said Ricketts.

The Buffalo News - January 26, 2010
City basks in glow of ‘Extreme Makeover’
by Brian Meyer

A city known for its spicy wings, Super Bowl defeats and snowstorms basked in two hours of prime time prestige Sunday night when millions of television viewers witnessed Buffalo's volunteer spirit tackling neighborhood blight.

Viewers of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" watched as the City of Good Neighbors shattered the show's record for volunteers. More than 6,300 people spent 53,544 hours fixing homes, landscaping properties, planting trees, building community gardens and performing other tasks. The outpouring of support was so impressive, said program executives, that they decided to double the length of the show and make it a special two-hour edition.

"It shows that Buffalo may be a small place, but it has a big heart," said West Side resident David Rodriguez, who volunteered on "Makeover week" in November to mend roofs, fix chimneys and unload trucks.

Rodriguez was among 2,200 people who converged on Shea's Performing Arts Center on Sunday for what may have been one of the area's largest community screenings of a TV show. They attended a gala to watch a true-to-life fairytale unfold for the Massachusetts Avenue family that was featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Delores Powell arrived shortly after 6 p.m., beaming in the glare of flashes as dozens of media types and volunteers snapped her picture.

"Man, this is like Hollywood," said one observer.

Powell and her four children saw their West Side home rebuilt as part of the television project. They also received new furniture, a new Ford Fusion and full-tuition scholarships at Canisius College.

"It was just awesome," Powell told The Buffalo News as the program ended. "I was crying the whole time."

At times, the lively screening seemed more like a community pep rally. The crowd burst into applause and cheered every few minutes. When it was time for the Powells to view their new digs, the Shea's crowd joined the videotaped volunteers and chanted "Move that bus! Move that bus!"

Powell said she's convinced the impact of the initiative will stretch beyond her family's good fortune.

"I believe this is going to change the way people look at the city. It's going to bring change in a positive way," said Powell, a Jamaican emigrant and founding member of PUSH Buffalo, a nonprofit community housing group.

The impact was felt even before Sunday's show was televised, said Jessica Collier, a coordinator for WNY AmeriCorps. She believes the massive volunteer effort will be a catalyst for future projects.

"People have seen the good that comes out of helping others," she said.

David Stapleton of David Homes, the project's home builder, watched the show from Shea's balcony. Throughout the program, he received text messages from friends across the country. One message was sent by someone who was at a viewing party in Florida.

Stapleton said he's already talking with groups to stage another neighborhood makeover this summer. While network television crews won't be chronicling the upcoming blitz, Stapleton said it will keep the momentum going.

Sunday's show wasn't the city's 15 minutes of fame, said the builder. Instead, he called it Buffalo's "wake-up call for the future," a reminder of how troops of dedicated volunteers can make a lasting difference.

Volunteers were moved by the emotional video that recounted Powell's story. She bought her home for $12,000, not realizing that it was condemned and targeted for demolition. The family faced numerous problems as they tried to bring the home up to code, including sewage backups in the basement and a crumbling foundation. Powell tried to contact the seller, but he disappeared.

The volunteer effort went beyond the classy transformation of 228 Massachusetts Ave. Crews also repaired nearby homes, poured sidewalks and made other quality-of-life improvements. Organizers said the initiative affected 71 homes.

The chairman of a nonprofit group that removes and salvages materials from old buildings marked for demolition said the goal now must be to make sure neighborhood rehabilitation remains on the priority list long after the "burst" of excitement from the TV program is a distant memory.

"Our job is to make this have a long-term impact so it isn't forgotten about in two weeks," said Buffalo ReUse's Vincent Kuntz.

He also hopes the neighborhood restoration project will be a reminder to decision-makers that demolishing structures isn't always the only recourse.

"Demolitions are easy. You can take credit for something. But some structures are worth saving," said Kuntz.

Brandon Barry, who helped coordinate the volunteer effort for WNY AmeriCorps, thinks one of the program's spinoff benefits is that it created community awareness of other volunteer- driven improvement projects that are under way."

"[The show] is just one thing that's happening, but it's not the only thing," he said.

Volunteers from dozens of groups attended the Theater District screening, including representatives from ReTree WNY. The executive producer of "Extreme Makeover" was there, as were many local dignitaries. When a speaker during the pre-screening ceremony thanked Rep. Brian Higgins' office for helping to lure the show to Buffalo, he politely declined to take credit.

"Actually, it worked because the politicians stayed out of the way," the congressman said to laughs and some nods.

Shea's wasn't the only venue where people had gathered for a community screening of "Extreme Makeover." People from at least a dozen churches gathered at the Tabernacle in Orchard Park to witness the region's two hours of fame.

Tabernacle administrator James McGinnis said more than 250 volunteers from the faith-based community turned out each day when the work was being done in a neighborhood around Massachusetts Avenue.

"People wanted to share in the excitement of what happened that week," said McGinnis in explaining the decision to stage the screening.

"Extreme Makeover" is seen in nearly 70 countries. Here in the U.S., the weekly audience last year measured at just over 10 million viewers.

Powell said she's delighted that people from around the world will have seen a side of Buffalo they probably never witnessed before. While Buffalo is third-poorest city in the nation, Powell and others think the message that resonated from the "Extreme Makeover" experience is clear.

"Even in tough times, you don't give up," said Powell. "There's always hope."

The Buffalo News - January 26, 2010
State looks at West Side as model for redevlopment Developers using environmentally friendly strategies to curb vacant housing
by Phil Fairbanks

At a vacant and abandoned house on Winter Street, in the middle of a working-class West Side neighborhood, a crew is doing more than restoring an old home.

By adding their own twist — solar and geothermal heating systems — workers can boast of creating one of the most energy-efficient houses in the region, all in the name of green development.

On the West Side, there is a belief that entire neighborhoods, even those with vacant housing, can be turned around using environmentally friendly strategies.

Out of that has come an ambitious 25-block redevelopment plan that suddenly finds itself on the radar of Gov. David A. Paterson.

"I think it's going to transform the neighborhood," said Diane Picard, executive director of the Massachusetts Avenue Project, a partner in the redevelopment plan.

Fresh on the heels of "Extreme Makeover," which happened just a few blocks away, Paterson is eyeing this neighborhood as a national model for how to curb vacant housing.

There is no guarantee the governor will support the West Side project Ô supporters claim he could fund it by drawing on money already in the budget — but his recent pledge to create a state-funded demonstration project in Buffalo gives people hope.

They also noted that one of his top aides was in town researching the project this month and that Paterson may view the development as an easy way to score points at a time when his political future is in doubt.

"I'm optimistic he wants to make this work," said Michael Clarke, head of the Buffalo office of Local Initiatives Support Corp., which is working on the West Side development.

Clarke is one of those who expressed skepticism when Paterson first announced his Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative during the State of the State address this month.

At the core of his doubt were the state's growing fiscal crisis and the likelihood that funding for major new initiatives would be scarce.

Clarke still wants to see a commitment of money, but after meeting recently with Paterson aide Michael Weber, he thinks the governor is serious about signing on.

The price tag?

Millions of dollars, with the biggest piece of it, the rehabilitation of 150 vacant homes, costing up to $11 million.

A state spokesman confirmed Weber's visit to Buffalo but stopped short of endorsing any one project here.

"That's one of the sites being considered," James Plastiras, a spokesman for the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, said of the West Side project.

Plastiras confirmed Weber's recent visit with PUSH Buffalo, one of the leaders in the green development effort, and said the state is consulting with other local officials, most notably City Hall.

State and city officials recently spoke by telephone, and the city is putting together a list of potential sites that could include the West Side project.

"There's an agreement to put together a process," said Peter Cutler, a spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Cutler thinks it's far too early to declare any one project the favorite and said state officials have expressed an interest in organizing a community summit on the demonstration project.

Activists at PUSH view Paterson's pledge and Weber's subsequent visit as an indication the state may be nearing a decision on whether to help fund their multimillion-dollar neighborhood development.

"I think they're assessing our work," said Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH, one of the groups spearheading the development. "The level of interest they've shown tells me they're interested in what we're doing."

What PUSH and its partners, Homefront and the Massachusetts Avenue Project, are doing is overseeing a redevelopment strategy that emphasizes more than just housing rehabilitation. It also focuses on job creation and the environment. "It's looking at community development in a more holistic way," Picard said.

The plan targets a 25-block area directly south of West Ferry Street and west of Richmond Avenue, with an eye toward rehabilitating abandoned homes and revitalizing vacant lots and public spaces.

The primary focus is on housing, with plans for a green-designed rehabilitation of about 200 housing units, three-quarters of them vacant.

"If we really want to make a dent in the housing problem on the West Side," Bartley said, "we have to hit at least 100 vacant housing units."

If this development has an edge over others, it may be the proven track record of the three community groups leading the effort. Each of them has had success in redeveloping vacant properties.

Together, they have completed a green-designed rehabilitation of six vacant housing units and are working on 17 other units right now.

The plan differs from others in that it also stresses job creation, urban agriculture and neighborhood infrastructure improvements.

The plan builds on many of the neighborhood's success stories, including the urban youth farm on Massachusetts Avenue and the 60 out-of-school young people enrolled in an AmeriCorps training and employment program.

Behind it all is the goal of right-sizing the neighborhood so it mirrors its current population and economy and, in the process, becomes a model of green-designed urban revitalization.

The big unanswered question is money. Where will it come from?

"Whether it's new or existing resources, there needs to be some commitment of money," Clarke said. "Otherwise, we're not doing anything particularly new or special."

The project would require millions of dollars in state money” officials say the funds could come from existing programs” and an unusual partnership between local community groups and a wide range of state agencies.

Bartley is encouraged by Paterson's pledge that the Buffalo project will have a single agency in charge while still tapping into the resources of other state agencies.

"It seems," Bartley said of the governor's interest, "like we're moving now."

The Buffalo News - January 12, 2010
‘Makeover’ sponsors host show at Shea’s
by Mark Sommer

A community screening of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" featuring West Side residents Delores Powell and her family will be held at 8 p.m. Jan. 24 in Shea's Performing Arts Center.

The expanded two-hour show is also expected to include the revitalization of the Powells' impoverished neighborhood that occurred at the same time from Nov. 7 to Nov. 14, when thousands of volunteers repaired homes, built community gardens, poured sidewalks and planted trees.

The event is co-sponsored by PUSH Buffalo, Buffalo ReUse, ReTree WNY and WNY AmeriCorps. The 8 p.m. viewing of "Extreme Makeover," preceded by a WKBW one-hour special at 7 p.m., is free, with donations suggested at the door.

A cocktail party fundraiser for nonprofit groups, with the proceeds to benefit the sponsors, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m., with $15 tickets available at Shea's box office. Details about how to obtain free tickets for the viewing will be announced soon.

"It's a testament to the spirit of service that exists in Buffalo that we broke the show's record for volunteers and that we were able to work on 71 homes," said Mark Lazzara, WNY AmeriCorps' CEO.

"We are truly excited to keep the momentum going," said Michael Gainer, program director for Buffalo ReUse, which deconstructed the Powell home and one other that week.

According to figures released Monday by WNY AmeriCorps, which helped coordinate the volunteers, the weeklong effort affected 71 homes and involved 6,336 volunteers working 53,544 hours, including 1,428 skilled workers and 855 who helped on the food drive.

Home projects included landscaping 30 properties, installing new security lights at 33 homes and 24 major or minor painting projects. Three roofs were installed, five porches renovated, four fences set in, three houses sided and gutters replaced.

In addition, 119 trees were planted, two murals painted, two community gardens built, 388 units of blood given and 85 tons of food collected with a value of $255,300.

Powell, a board member of PUSH Buffalo, and her family plan to attend.

"I couldn't be happier about what this means for Delores and what it means for the neighborhood," said Jen Meccozi, PUSH board chairwoman. "Delores has been fighting for our neighborhoods for a long time, and I know this will motivate her to do even more."

Justin Booth, ReTree Buffalo's executive director, said he looked forward to having millions around the country watch Buffalo shine.

"We are so proud of all the amazing work that has been done here, and so grateful that "Extreme Makeover' gave Buffalo a chance to show its best side to the rest of the country," Booth said.