New York State Caught Red-Handed Speculating with our Homes on Wall Street
Launched in 2005-06, PUSH’s first direct-action campaign on the West Side led to a major victory: The Block by Block Program. This victory helped to establish the earliest foundations of what is now known as Buffalo’s Green Development Zone.
In 2005, PUSH’s co-founders, Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker, and five West Side community leaders, conducted an extensive door-to-door survey of local residents’ visions for their communities. Vacant housing ranked highest among their concerns.
Further investigations revealed that a New York State housing agency controlled the liens on 1,499 vacant houses in Buffalo. Instead of making plans to rehabilitate these houses, the agency had sold the liens to Wall Street in a deal with the investment firm Bear Stearns.
Buildings that posed major economic, environmental, and public safety problems for West Side residents had become chips in a high-stakes financial game designed to benefit wealthy investors. It was precisely this kind of reckless and exploitative activity that would soon lead to the global financial crash of 2008 and the Great Recession.
To highlight this injustice, PUSH volunteers painted large stenciled portraits of New York State Governor George Pataki on boarded-up houses the state owned. After protests at the governor’s Buffalo office, state officials in Albany reacted, and soon PUSH entered into negotiations with the office of the new governor, Elliott Spitzer.
The result of these negotiations was the Block by Block Program, a tremendous victory for the people of the West Side and similar neighborhoods across New York State. The state relinquished control of more than 1,499 homes and opened a state-wide funding stream for the rehabilitation of houses.
Through a partnership with non-profit developer HomeFront Buffalo, the Green Development Zone benefited from their funding stream with a $1.3 million renovation of six vacant homes on 19th Street. In this way, PUSH began the process of building green affordable housing, which is a cornerstone of redevelopment work in the Zone.