This week, the City of Buffalo released its highly anticipated Housing Opportunities Strategy. This project, initiated in early 2016 by nationally-renown urban revitalization consultants, czb LLC, is a comprehensive review of the City’s housing market with an eye towards conditions impacting housing access for citizens and promoting affordability within its product. The goal of the report is to accurately define the challenges of housing access and advocate for effective strategies to address those challenges.
The strategy is not designed as a laundry list of recommendations, but rather to function as a decision-making framework for the City to nimbly address its housing needs through a data-driven, multi-faceted approach. The strategy employs a “block by block” analysis, understanding that the Buffalo housing market fluctuates significantly depending on its location, neighborhood and proximity to key assets. The study makes a few foundational conclusions that should be understood in the implementation of any specific initiative.
The first conclusion is that Buffalo’s housing affordability challenges are “driven by low income levels – not high housing costs.” Approximately 37,000 households in the City of Buffalo earn less than $20,000. This is the fundamental reason for the affordability challenges in the City that exist at any housing price point.
Second, despite attention-getting headlines, the report states that data shows the Buffalo housing market remains soft and tenuous. It is critical that the city continue to generate housing development at all price points to continue the reinvestment into our neighborhoods. Over time, stimulating market rate development will rebuild the tax base and enhance the City’s resources and ability to address critical public and social needs.
Finally, the report emphasizes that we need to stimulate the creation of mixed-income neighborhoods, not further the concentration of poverty within the urban core. Mandatory requirements can have the impact of establishing concentrated poverty in neighborhoods as a perpetual condition.
A variety of tools are identified to help address affordability challenges and are recommended to be deployed differently depending upon the neighborhood. Among those are a voluntary inclusionary zoning program, by which incentives would be provided for development projects that incorporated affordable units into their program. However, the report recognizes the financial challenges of doing this in the Buffalo market, stating “any IZ (inclusionary zoning) policy must fully offset (with subsidy) a developer’s direct revenue stream to achieve the policy’s goal.” Further, this policy was only recommended in the strongest of neighborhood submarkets.
The report lays a comprehensive framework for developing an enhanced mix of housing units in the City of Buffalo. You can read the entire report here.