(pictured above Mayoral Candidate India Walton)
I love and believe in the East Side, where I am proud to have been born and raised. But looking around the East Side sometimes breaks my heart. Around every corner, it is hard to miss the effects of decades of capital flight and public disinvestment: vacant lots, cracked sidewalks, poorly maintained parks, badly lit streets, scarce options for healthful food, and entirely too many makeshift memorials to victims of gun violence.
However, even in the shadows of longstanding governmental neglect, I see potential. Where vacant lots sit vacant and unkept, I see the potential for safe, permanently affordable housing. Where food insecurity is a daily concern, I see the potential for grocery cooperatives and neighborhood gardens. Where lead poisons babies, I see the potential for investments in healthy families and communities.
This is an agenda for realizing that potential, for building the safe, healthy Buffalo, we need and deserve, leaving no neighborhood behind, including the East Side.
Before we talk more about my plan for the East Side I want to uplift that the East Side is not a monolith. There are a multitude of neighborhoods with unique character along with profound and complex needs. When I say the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution, that means I expect to work in partnership with existing community organizations, stakeholders, and neighborhood groups to ensure we plan, resource, and implement real solutions that will move our city forward.
1. Economic Development
For too long, our leaders have simply bemoaned poverty and failed to do anything about it. It is time, at long last, to revive Buffalo’s economy, reduce poverty, create stability, and provide for a healthy city into the future.
● Create jobs through green job development, light manufacturing, and worker-owned cooperatives.
● Cultivate walkable business and entertainment districts in historically redlined neighborhoods, specifically Michigan, Jefferson, Fillmore, and Bailey.
● Support entrepreneurs whose businesses employ fewer than ten workers
● Adopt an equitable approach to city contracting and civil service growth.
● Work in partnership with the state and federal government to secure funding to expand public transit with high speed rail.
● Apply for state and federal grants to support the work of existing cultural institutions.
● Partner with faith-based institutions to expand housing and community economic development.
2. Lead Abatement
It is unconscionable that our city’s lead poisoning crisis still rivals that of Flint, Michigan, especially when Rochester and Syracuse have both managed to implement successful lead abatement programs with no more resources than are available to us.
● Enforce the inspection of all rental properties in the City of Buffalo built before 1978 to ensure that children and families are not exposed to lead paint.
● Enforce remediation of impacted properties.
● Provide resources to home town landlords for abatement and rehab of problem properties.
3. Infill housing
Parts of the East Side look like prairie, after years of mass demolitions with scant redevelopment. From my time as Executive Director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, I know exactly what it takes to develop without displacement.
● Cultivate a citywide federation of Community Land Trusts, with public support for neighborhood self-development, including disposing of city-owned land at under market rate.
● Secure strong community benefits agreements whenever the city provides public subsidies to large real estate developments.
● Fund home repairs to keep homeowners in their homes.
● Provide capacity-building grants for community housing development agencies.
● Improve the application process for obtaining rehabilitation and emergency repair loans from the City of Buffalo, which currently can take up to two years.
● Create a municipally-supported micro-mortgage revolving loan fund to provide financing to purchase homes that cost less than $50k.
● Allocate more CDBG and Home Funds for infill housing.
● Float city bonds for rehabilitating homes instead of executing massive demolitions.
● Begin developing single family infill housing around MLK Park, the largest park on the East Side.
4. Safe streets
All too often, simply crossing the street can mean risking one’s life. At the same time, drag racing and other forms of unsafe driving produce noise, exhaust, and other byproducts that reduce East Siders’ quality of life. This will be in support of the Just Streets Initiative by the Fair, Fines, and Fees Coalition that looks at crime prevention through environmental design.
● Install speed humps in particularly problematic areas.
● Move collision inspection responsibilities from police to the Department of Transit, in order to streamline the process of developing strategic recommendations and turning them into life-saving infrastructure improvements.
● Create safety grants for block clubs and neighborhood associations
● Establish a Buffalo Peace Corp in high risk areas modeled around the LIFE Camp model, to provide holistic, peaceful lifestyle training, coupled with a crisis response, to reduce community violence and heal historic trauma.
● Partner with local radio, tv, and social media outlets to promote public awareness of a peaceful lifestyle including conflict resolution, personal development, healthy eating and physical activity as a way to reduce stress and improve health outcomes.
5. Park maintenance
It is outrageous how poorly maintained our city parks are. With dilapidated equipment, overgrown vegetation, substandard sanitation, and pavement in need of repair, these are hardly suitable places for our families to spend recreational time.
● Create an Independent Parks Department separate from the Department of Public Works, and appoint competent leadership who can devise and implement a consolidated strategic plan for maintaining healthy, usable city parks.
● Employ adequate staffing at all levels to enable the department to affect its strategic plan.
6. Refurbished sidewalks
Not only do cracked and crumbling sidewalks drive down property values, they make it nearly impossible for residents who use walkers or wheelchairs to simply get down the street to friends’ houses, doctors appointments, and other destinations
● Direct the Department of Public Works to conduct a comprehensive review of our city’s sidewalks and create one consolidated plan that emphasizes priority zones.
● Aggressively pursue federal and state grants for essential infrastructure improvements.
● Employ union labor and enforce the apprenticeship requirements on paving projects to create career pathways for neighborhood residents.
7. Addressing the root causes of violence
The homicide rate has risen 5 of the last 6 years in Byron Brown’s Buffalo. His only response to this has been enhanced surveillance and punishment, which has abjectly failed to keep us safe. We have to address the root causes of violence.
● In all ways, work to end the concentrated poverty which constitutes far-and-away the leading cause of community violence.
● Bring the evidence-based LIFE Camp model to Buffalo, to provide violence interruption by credible messengers, ongoing mentorship and conflict mediation, wraparound therapeutic services to heal from trauma, and cash assistance for those at highest risk to shoot or be shot.
● Establish a mental health first responder corps staffed by social workers and other trained professionals to answer 911 calls involving substance abuse and other mental health crises.
More information about India Walton, the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Buffalo and sole mayoral candidate on the November 2 General Election ballot, can be found at www.indiawalton.com, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram .