A high-profile housing group has been helping to revive a West Side neighborhood. PUSH – People United for Sustainable Housing – continues to launch projects that create affordable dwellings for West Side residents.
Jen Mecozzi, PUSH’s director of community organizing, took The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer on a tour of the 25-block target area. Here is a summary of some of the issues that were discussed in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full five-minute video at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: There are some very interesting things going on in this 25-block radius of the West Side. Tell us what you’re doing with PUSH.
Mecozzi: Our main mission is to … figure out a way for people in the neighborhood to stay in the neighborhood, yet be able to live in affordable, energy-efficient housing.
Meyer: PUSH for years has been working hard on rehabbing some of these dwellings.
Mecozzi: We early on took on a project and did some community work around revitalizing two different structures. … It was a learning process. But what we did realize is that due to the fact that the housing stock is so old in this area, weatherization is so necessary. … When you’re heating bill is a little larger than your rent, then it tends to become a [problem].
Meyer: Some interesting trends are occurring here. We’re actually seeing, according to realtors, an increase in property values in pockets of the West Side.
Mecozzi: We are doing our best to land-bank, so to speak. … We’re noticing that there have been some renovations going on where the cost of living and the rents are almost double what we would charge.
Meyer: Some of that has to be the [result] of what PUSH is doing. Do you sometimes feel like you’re actually in a self-defeating kind of mode in some ways?
Mecozzi: I don’t want to call it self-defeating. I’ve been quoted as saying that we may be stepping on our own toes. But I step on my own toes every day and [by] accident. It’s OK. We know what we have to do. … I myself live right in this neighborhood.
Meyer: You were born and raised on the West Side, You moved away for a while, but then came back as very young adult. Tell us, how has it changed?
Mecozzi: How it’s changed is that we are probably … one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire state. The West Side has a refugee population. We have Somalians, we have Burmese, we have so many cultures that live in this area.
Meyer: When you talk about reviving a neighborhood, there’s often a philosophical tug of war between demolitions – particularly if there’s a lot of older housing – and rehab.
Mecozzi: Nobody wants to demolish a building or any type of structure that’s worth rehabbing. … Just the fact that vacant space is going to be all that’s left is kind of depressing. … You want to be able to rehab structures. They’re beautiful structures. I mean you can say we have the oldest housing stock. But if we weatherize it and we rehabilitate it, we also have some of the most beauitful architecture.