Gov. Kathy Hochul announces $50 million investment in East Side of Buffalo

Back in April, Gov. Kathy Hochul committed $225 million in spending on Buffalo’s East Side for workforce training, infrastructure, small businesses and historic attractions. 

On Saturday, Hochul announced $50 million more, but with a different primary focus in the wake of the May 14 massacre at a Tops supermarket: assisting struggling East Side homeowners.

Ten people were gunned down at a Buffalo supermarket May 14 in a horrifying mass shooting that officials were quick to label as “pure evil” an…

“I want this community to know this is my home. This is deeply personal to me,” Hochul said in announcing the funding at the Apollo Media Center, two blocks from the-now shuttered Tops, and flanked by a coterie of state and local officials. “This is not a press conference day and we walk away. This is a longstanding, personal commitment from the governor of New York State to this community.”

Hochul said she had asked her team to identify pressing needs on the East Side.  

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“Let’s go big, let’s be bold,” Hochul told them. 

“This is a moment of turning pain into progress,” Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said.

Here’s how $34.5 million of the $50 million will be used for housing: 

• $20 million: 4,000 homeowners will receive an average of $5,000 each to pay off delinquent tax, water and sewer bills.

• $10 million: More than 1,000 East Side homeowners will get up to $10,000 each in grants for home repairs.

• $4.5 million: 150 first-time homeowners will receive down payments of $30,000.

State officials say the $225 million – $185 million from the state, with $41 from philanthropies and $9 million from the City of Buffalo – will follow a planned, step-by-step approach that began several years ago. Those on the giving and receiving ends point to signs the public funds will be well spent.

Marva Threat, president of the Greater East Side Fields of Dreams Block Club Association in the Broadway Fillmore area, said the need for major home improvement projects is a sizeable one that’s out of reach for many. 

“I commend the governor for doing that for the East Side,” Threat said, though she said she wanted to reserve judgment until she sees how the program is implemented. “There is a great need on the East Side to replace roofs and do painting and other renovations, especially as you get older and your income is limited.”

The governor announced $3 million for a “resilience center’ within the Resource Council of Western New York, 347 E. Ferry St. It will help with mental health counseling and other community social service needs, and oversee the application process for the housing grants.

A $2 million “public engagement unit” will be created to inform people of services they’re eligible for, modeled after a successful program in New York City. 

Hochul also announced the establishment of a commission to memorialize the Tops shooting and the individuals who died, with members to be appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“We want to hear the voices of the community,” Brown said, “and we want the vision of the community reflected in the memorial that will be built on Jefferson Avenue.”

To address the shortage of grocery stores on the East Side, Hochul announced $3 million to rehabilitate the future home of the African Heritage Food Co-op in the Fruit Belt on the corner of Carlton and Locust streets.

“We have a building, we have the drive, we have the architect, we have the environmental studies, we have the renderings,” African Heritage Food Co-op founder Alex Wright told media in front of the Carlton Street building in which he plans to open. “The only thing we don’t have is the funding. Help us do something that’s in the community, for the community.” 

Alexander Wright, founder of the co-op, said the food market will address the “food apartheid” that exists in many East Side communities from a lack of grocery stores, while fostering Black ownership and jobs for community residents.

Small businesses and job training are also receiving significant funding. 

The state will invest $7 million in capital and operating grants for businesses in the 14208 and 14209 ZIP codes. Capital grants will go up to $100,000, and operating grants up to $50,000.

The state is also putting $1.5 million into a Goodwill “career building center” near the Tops market. The intent is to train people for higher-paying, in-demand jobs in manufacturing, technology, health care, and sales and services.

To meet short-term transportation needs, Hochul said the state will continue to waive fares on bus routes 12, 13, 18 and 24 and provide a free shuttle to Price Rite on Elmwood Avenue until Tops’ scheduled reopening in late July.

Each speaker attacked white supremacy and said the tragedy was an opportunity for the community to emerge stronger in its aftermath. 

“We are going to take this atrocity of white supremacy and evil that reared its ugly head in Buffalo, and do something positive about it,” State Sen. Tim Kennedy said.

“We can only be as strong in the City of Buffalo and the County of Erie when all of our areas are strong,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. “These investments will make a difference not only for the East Side, but all of Buffalo and all of Erie County.”

Exuberance coursed through the sun-soaked crowd gathered for the Juneteenth parade Saturday. But the pain and sadness of last month’s racist massacre at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue was evident.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes praised Hochul “as the first leader of our state to truly engage our communities directly to understand what our needs are, and how we believe we should build our future.” 

Jerry Daniels, owner of Carl-Jeff Barber Shop on Jefferson, said he wished it hadn’t taken a disaster for the newly announced investments to be made. 

“I think this is something that’s long overdue,” Daniels said. “If the money is available now, it should have been available before for an area where it’s definitely needed.”

Hochul expressed confidence that the funds – both the money announced for the East Side before the Tops shooting and the funds announced Saturday – will make a lasting difference. 

“These are going to change the face of this community forever,” the governor said. “To me that’s the most important thing – to give people here the sense that this community has value.”

The $50 million adds to the $225 million for the East Side prior to the shooting, which included $185 million from the state, $41 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and other philanthropies and $9 million from the City of Buffalo.

It wasn’t immediately known if the $50 million just announced is all state funded. 

In April, the governor committed $76 million to expand the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor and the Northland Workforce Training Center; $61 million to repair the concourse, exterior of the tower building and grounds at the Central Terminal; $37 million to create a state-of-the-art Broadway Market; $30 million to build out the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor; $15 million to bolster the commercial corridors; and $6 million to restore greenhouses at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

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