A Number of Indicators- Including Health, Housing, Income and Education Show Little Improvement and in Some Cases, Decline in The City’s East Side Over the past 30 Years.
By Mark Scheer
In 1990, researchers at the University at Buffalo examined what it was like to be Black and living in Buffalo. They found large numbers of African Americans were out of work, living in poverty, lacked a college degree and were renters rather than homeowners.
The report predicted that the “downward trend” for the city’s Black population.
More than 30 years later, a follow-up study released this week found the “portrait of Black Buffalo remains unchanged.”
On the city’s predominantly Black East Side, researchers found the problems are actually getting worse.
“We have to do something different and, if we don’t, 31 years from now it will be the same way,” said Dr. Henry Taylor Jr., the study’s lead researcher and director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies.
Part of the problem: City leaders, including Mayor Byron Brown, failed to follow the original report’s recommendations for addressing problems facing Buffalo’s Black residents.
Instead, Taylor said they promoted economic development in certain areas while “marginalizing and under-developing” Black neighborhoods.
“They have not tackled the fundamental problems facing Black and Brown people, and that’s serious,” Taylor said.
The original study, titled “African Americans and the Rise of Buffalo’s Post-Industrial City, 1940 to Present,” painted a bleak picture three decades ago.
At the time, the study concluded that 18 percent of Black residents were unemployed, and 38 percent lived below the poverty line. In 1990, African American households earned an average of $39,350 per year. There were more Black residents without a high school diploma than with a college degree, too. Only 33 percent of Black residents in Buffalo owned their home, and most were concentrated in East Side neighborhoods.
The follow-up study, released Friday, used the 1990 report as a reference point to measure progress over the past three decades.
It focused on employment, income, housing, and neighborhood conditions and relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, including statistics from the five-year assessment known as the American Community Survey.
The new report, entitled “The Harder We Run, The State of Black Buffalo in 1990 and The Present,” found:
•Unemployment in the Black community remains in the double-digits, 11 percent.
•35 percent of African American residents live below the poverty line.
•Average household income for Black residents increased only slightly, to $42,000.
•Homeownership among African American residents dropped to 32 percent.
•High school dropouts still outnumber college graduates.
•Most in the Black community are still renters and they pay higher rates to live in housing, which is often substandard.
•African American residents live in poor health conditions, and many die prematurely because of it.
“Everything has changed, but everything has remained the same,” the study notes over and over again
The latest study identified seven “root problems,” which include:
Segregation. Researchers found communities in Buffalo and Erie County remain segregated and they argue that the segregation “traps” African American residents in “low-value, marginalized and underdeveloped neighborhoods” that become “sites of predatory inclusion, public sector underdevelopment, profiteering and exploitation.”
•Limited educational attainment. The study found a significant number of Black residents, more than 30 percent, go to college but never obtain a degree.
•Structural joblessness. Researchers found many Black residents are “locked” in the low-wage sector and struggle to find full-time work.
•Low wages. According to the study, Buffalo’s labor market consists of high- and low-wage sectors, African Americans – largely due to their lower levels of academic achievement – tend to have lower-wage jobs.
•Underdevelopment of neighborhoods. Researchers found a myriad of problems on the East Side, including substandard rental housing, rent gouging, high incidences of housing demolition, poor sidewalks and “unkept residential vacant lots” that are depressing housing values.
•Gentrification. The study suggests Black residents living in the Main Street zone designated by city planners as an “educational corridor” are in danger of being displaced by developments involving Canisius College, Sisters Hospital, and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
•Poor health. Researchers noted that African Americans often have “preventable diseases, make unjustifiably forced upon unhealthy life choices and often die prematurely.” Sixty percent of Black residents are likely to suffer premature death. African Americans in Erie County have had higher rates of heart disease, stroke and asthma than do Whites. Diabetes is a particular problem.
East Side Woes
Researchers suggest the city’s planning and development strategy “marginalized” the East Side. Between 2006 and 2016, the Brown administration invested $179 million on the East Side. One-third of the money went for demolitions — more than any other activity.
The researchers criticized Brown for failing to collaborate with East Side residents or engage in “thoughtful neighborhood planning” and chided his administration for failing to “consistently make strategic investments” in those communities.
“The transformation of the East Side into the zone of demolition and land banking without — and I stress without — planning and development, created havoc on the East Side,” Taylor said.
What needs to be done?
The 1990 report recommended establishing job training programs, providing financial help to low-income homeowners, and promoting the development of business districts. The blueprint also called for new strategies to address social problems.
The new report calls for greater focus on ending “racial residential segregation” that researchers say serves as the “linchpin” in the system of Black inequality. It also calls for strengthening enforcement of fair housing laws and developing a more aggressive strategy to retain African American college students and encourage them to obtain degrees.
The bulk of the study’s recommendations focus on ways to improve conditions on the East Side, with researchers calling for the city to declare the East Side a “Neighborhood, Social and Economic Development Zone” and to establish a committee consisting of residents, homeowners and business owners.
“Our hope is that a core of leaders in Buffalo will pick this study up and take the lead in fighting to redevelop the East Side,” Taylor said. “I want to stress that you can’t do it without the close partnership with the City of Buffalo. It will not happen.”