When Governor Andrew M. Cuomo first announced the Buffalo Billion economic development program back in 2012, there was reason to believe that Buffalo could rebuild in a way that would create an equitable and inclusive economy from the ground up.
Six years and two election cycles later, it’s clear through the lived experiences of thousands of Buffalonians that Cuomo’s modus operandi of pay-to-play politics has exacerbated economic and racial inequality in one of the already poorest and most segregated cities in the country.
For all the rhetoric of the Buffalo renaissance, there’s not a lot of proof of it beyond luxury lofts and repaved streetscapes that beg the question: Who is benefiting from it?
Similar to Cuomo’s trickle-down economic development plan, Mayor Byron W. Brown’s role in the modern-day Tale of Two Cities puts big business interests and developers in control of the city’s economic health. Buffalo’s elite plays by a different set of rules than the longtime Buffalonian who has struggled through the hard times and stayed when everyone else decided to leave.
Recent examples include developer Nick Sinatra of Sinatra & Company being given property assessed at $1.12 million at Canalside from the City of Buffalo for $1 after it was reported on multiple occasions that he owed back taxes to the City, and has had a number of properties in foreclosure throughout the past year. Meanwhile, Buffalo residents have had their homes put on the city auction list for outstanding user fees of as little as $500.
Additionally, the 485-a tax exemption program excuses property taxes on properties converted from non-residential to mixed use over a period of 12 years. It’s well-documented that this program has been abused by the wealthiest developers in the city. The result is a tax burdened working-class and a loss of revenue that could be generated for vital City services like public education.
That’s not right, and it isn’t the New Buffalo that was promised. In order to create an economy and a city that center the needs of communities of color and working-class people who have been disenfranchised intentionally for generations, a full transformation, and in some instances dismantling, of institutions and systems is necessary.
It’s time to hold those in power and elected office accountable for the harm that continues to be incurred daily in the name of personal profit.
The OUR CITY Coalition is already involved in this critically important work. Drawing from the priorities of artists and cultural workers, organizers and activists, faith-based leaders, and frontline communities, the OUR CITY Platform offers an alternative to the status quo. Developed over a six-month period with input from over 1,000 city residents, the Platform provides a vision for a truly equitable Buffalo where all people are valued and the dignity of labor respected.
The time is now. It’s our city, and we all have a right to it.
Harper Bishop is the Director of Equitable Development at Open Buffalo, a community collaborative for economic, racial, and social justice. For more information on the OUR CITY Coalition visit ourcitybuffalo.org.