Why I’ve stopped threatening to move to Canada (and so should you).

Fellow Well Meaning White People,

As the rising tide of bigotry and white nationalism emboldened by the new inevitability of a Trump presidency threatens the core foundations of a just and free society, it is hard for those among us who hope for a more equitable world to not be overwhelmed by the wayward bend of the universe’s arc, which suddenly seems to be not bending toward but hurtling from justice.

My natural instinct as this campaign developed, was to make the universal liberal threat (see: Brexit, Stay) that soon our family would be learning to like Tim Horton’s coffee and practicing our ‘soorry’s and ‘aboot’s. Since our kids already play hockey, and we can almost see the Peace Bridge from our house, it seems a gentle transition.

But this is also known as taking your toys and going home. [Footnote: by accident of our birth — and our largely unspoken inheritance of the long standing inequitable systems that preceded — white people are much more likely to own the toys and own the homes to go back to.]

Defining Canada as home, of course, calls on notions of home as a place we find comfort and welcome, a safe place to return. But this assumption of our inherent belonging, even in a foreign country, is a product of our whiteness.

As white people, threatening to move to Canada only highlights this privilege. Assuming our right to belong, while possessing the ability and willingness to opt out of systems and institutions that are inconvenient for us, rather than working to improve our shared and collective fate, has created the deep racial divisions in our opportunities and our outcomes: from schools, to neighborhoods, to local government, to transportation and health.

When we remove our individually held (but not, honestly, individually acquired) resources from the collective, we continue to disproportionately disadvantage people of color and all others who don’t fit within our society’s dated 19th and 20th century normative framework.

And, when you get deep into the facts, the causes for, and the results of inequity, it’s plain to see that divided communities aren’t just bad for people of color, they are bad for everyone. The conclusion is simple: white families are less likely to get ahead when their regions are places of inequity and segregation.

But flexing our instinct for flight at the first sign of trouble, even if we don’t intend to exercise it, flaunts the underlying if unacknowledged notion that wherever we go we take our whiteness — and all the privilege that it conveys — with us.

As beneficiaries of a system that is, indeed, rigged in our favor, those of us with a conscience — or, failing that, those of us with a stake in our own future success or that of our children — need not to look at our privilege as an ejector seat to parachute us to someplace safe (if not necessarily warm) when things get uncomfortable.

So, yes, take a knee, well meaning white Americans. Spare a moment to show your compassion for the ideals of liberty and justice for all, as they lay injured on the turf of American democracy.

But season tickets at the Rogers Centre are not the answer.

We cannot rise individually, collectively, or as a society while well meaning whites continue to have one hand on the door handle, unsure whether we can be bothered to stick around to see this fight through.

Don’t allow your ability to opt-out to act as your comfort.

If you are disgusted by the mess that our fellow white people have created, put down your passport book and get serious about turning the page, instead, on this uncomfortable chapter of American history.

/aa

 

 

Make Communities’ partners support and hold different political views and perspectives, but we are united against bigotry and hatred in all its forms.

Unveiling the Stella Niagara Preserve Vision Plan

On Thursday January 21, at the Lewiston Senior Center, the Western New York Land Conservancy will unveil the Stella Niagara Preserve Vision Plan. To create the Preserve, the Land Conservancy purchased the property — the largest privately held undeveloped tract of land along the Niagara River — in June 2015 after a $3 million capital campaign. It was opened to the public the following month and features spectacular views, walking trails, fishing access and a place to put a kayak in the water.

Stella Niagara Vision PlanThe Stella Niagara Preserve will be a world-class, publicly accessible nature preserve that provides an iconic cultural and natural link in the Niagara River Greenway.

As the most high-profile acquisition and project to date by the Land Conservancy, the organization undertook a comprehensive planning process for the ecological restoration and on-going stewardship of the Preserve in keeping with the community’s vision and the organization’s priorities. The group engaged nationally renowned landscape architect Darrel Morrison to create a restoration plan for the site, and also engaged Make Communities to work with stakeholders to establish principles and devise a vision for the Preserve to guide the site’s use, design and maintenance.

The resulting Stella Niagara Preserve Vision Plan focuses on five pieces of Guiding Wisdom sourced from community conversations about the past, present and future potential of this incredible place.

The Preserve…

…is an incredible natural setting and provides a unique and crucial area for plant and animal life.

…is a place for people to develop a relationship with nature.

…has cultural, spiritual, and artistic importance.

…has many important stories to tell and lessons to teach.

…will continue to evolve.

This knowledge frames goals and strategies that are clear enough to chart a path forward, but flexible enough to be adaptable to changing conditions and circumstances.

Goals for the Preserve…

Protect and enhance wildlife habitats.

Provide access to the Preserve for people to walk, hike, kayak, canoe, learn, and be inspired.

Protect and celebrate the Preserve’s diverse attractions.

Explore and promote the Preserve’s history.

Learn— and adapt—together over time.

The presentation of the Vision Plan and draft Concept Plan by Darrel Morrison and his team will take place from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Lewiston Senior Center at 4361 Lower River Road. There is no cost to attend the presentation, but please RSVP by Tuesday, January 19 at wnylc.ticketleap.com/stella or (716) 687-1225

Read more about the Stella Niagara Preserve on the Western New York Land Conservancy’s website, or download the full Vision Plan here.

Stella Kids

This old housing stock…

Is Buffalo’s peculiar housing stock in part responsible for its own decline?

this old housing stockIf you hang out in community development circles (and, let’s face it, if you’re reading this you most likely do), then you’ve heard Buffalo has among the oldest housing stock in the nation.

In fact, Buffalo actually has the oldest housing stock for any large city (100,000+ units) in the U.S., with 64% of its units built prior to 1939. Without being retrofitted, these older homes are generally lacking in insulation and carry disproportionately high utility bills. In addition, the presence of unmitigated lead paint is rampant, also leaving Buffalo with disproportionately high instances of lead poisoning.

But Buffalo is unique in another regard. Though a relatively dense city, a very high percentage of Buffalo’s housing units are in houses as opposed to apartment buildings, with a higher portion of two-family houses than any other city. [Suffice it to say it’s a lot, but check the footnote if you really want to wonk out…]

Buffa-lore also holds that the city’s houses were being built as UpState NY was being deforested. The lumber that was floated down the Erie Canal made it the cheap building material of choice, leaving the city with few masonry structures. As noted we noted in the One Region Forward Fair Housing Equity Assessment:

“This type of housing stock has proven difficult to regulate and difficult to preserve as it has aged, in part because of a large and dispersed ownership of often under-capitalized and inexperienced landlords. In a city of larger apartment buildings, an enforcement action (i.e., housing code violation citation or court case) against a landlord may impact an average of 5, 10 or many more units. However, in Buffalo or Niagara Falls, each action may only impact one or two units on average. Further, though larger apartment buildings generally require some substantial capital outlay for acquisition, as the city’s neighborhoods’ housing markets have fallen into decline, many houses have been purchased for a few thousand or even hundreds of dollars.

This has made real estate speculation rampant in some areas. With low levels of initial investment (and, hence, little risk), exploitative landlords have milked properties of their value by failing to perform maintenance or make repairs but meanwhile collecting rents until the properties become unlivable. At this point, some of these owners simply stop paying taxes and walk away, having profited from their transaction, leaving the City, the neighborhood and the neighbors to deal with the problems they have created. Others have sold these properties to unsuspecting buyers, often from out of the area, which has triggered a rash of fraudulent flipping in recent years.”

In addition, one-unit and two-unit houses have too often been exempted from fair housing regulations, essentially allowing discrimination and segregation to persist without consequence.

As an outlier, Buffalo continues to suffer from policy that was built for other areas and other conditions. Much of New York’s housing law and housing assistance programs, for instance, were built around the conditions found in New York City. In another example, the Federal response to the sub-prime foreclosure crisis funneled millions more to an acute crisis of real estate speculation in Mesa, Arizona, rather than Buffalo’s long standing, if slow moving, vacancy crisis.

100 19th Street, Right 106 19th StreetYet, planted in Buffalo’s old, small-scale housing stock are also the seeds of revitalization. A new wave of industrious residents and neighborhood organizations have been able to lay claim to a small piece of the city and begin to rebuild: house by house, block by block.

Various organizations and agencies have also been battling these policy loopholes, and instituting policy changes to help regulate and revitalize properties in neighborhoods across the city. There is much work remaining, but because of their efforts, the city’s real estate market is a far cry from the Wild West(ern New York) that it was even eight to ten year ago.

 

 

*Footnote for wonks: 72.8% of all Buffalo housing units are in single family detached or 2-family structures, second only in percentage to Bakersfield, CA for cities with more than 100,000 housing units. Buffalo is 1st in the country for percentage of 2-unit structures among the 561 included in the 2012 American Community Survey at 40.2% of units. The next closest city is Paterson, NJ at 35.5% and among those with 100,000 or more units, Jersey City is second at only 23.9%. For more than 4 units, Buffalo has the second smallest percentage (15.8%) of cities with more than 100,000 units, once again behind Bakersfield (13.2%).

Fair Housing Month

“…where one lives determines how one lives, influencing quality of life factors such as education, employment, transportation options, public services, safety, recreational access, and a general sense of community.”

                     – CHICAGO METROPOLITAN AGENCY FOR PLANNING FHEA

In last Thursday’s post on redlining, I touched on one of the major practices that has historically kept people of color from an open an fair housing market. Unfortunately, this is far from the only one, nor are these unfair practices all behind us.

Equal_Housing_LogoIn fact, it is not just people of color, but families, the elderly, people with physical impairments, the LGBTQ community and those with limited English proficiency, among others, that face barriers to fair housing.

April is Fair Housing month, a time for highlighting these challenges and working together to help eliminate the roadblocks that people face to quality housing.

The Erie County Fair Housing Partnership brings together a coalition of local service providers, non-profits, government agencies and local businesses in order to advance fair housing in the region. Make Communities had the honor of presenting the One Region Forward Fair Housing Equity Assessment (FHEA) at their annual meeting, earlier this year. In all, though, the FHEA is a document that reflects their shared knowledge and passion for this work.

Among them, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) has been a champion of fair housing in the region for decades. From their website:

Housing Opportunities Made Equal is a fair housing organization continuing the struggle for civil rights by working to promote the value of diversity and to ensure all people an equal opportunity to live in the housing and communities of their choice—-through education, advocacy, the enforcement of fair housing laws and the creation of housing opportunities. 

The FHEA summarizes their activities:

“HOME now operates a comprehensive set of Fair Housing activities in the seven county region… HOME offers a landlord and tenant training program, and a community education program that spans from workshops to publications for human service agencies, government and school groups.

Through their Fair Housing Unit, HOME also provides direct assistance to victims of housing discrimination, by investigating complaints, informing clients of the law and of their legal rights and helping them to navigate the system of enforcement. HOME also operates the Greater Buffalo Community Housing Center… to help voucher recipients evaluate their housing and location options to determine what neighborhood(s) will provide them with the best housing options for them. Since its inception, the program has assisted more than 4,000 families.”

For all of the great work that HOME and non-profit housing providers have accomplished, there is still much work to be done. That’s just one of the reasons a host of neighborhood based organizations will be participating in Fair Housing Month activities throughout April.

Throughout the month, we’ll also continue to highlight some of the challenges facing Fair Housing and organizations striving for housing equity, and we’ll also look at some of the recommendations for advancing this important cause.

Triptych Tuesday: A Legacy of Inequitable Infrastructure

If the people centered-transportation movement can become a champion for racial and economic equity, it will play a direct an important counter-point to 20th century infrastructure decisions.

A major feature in Slate last month, the past and present of auto-centric infrastructure pockmarks nearly all U.S. cities with the brunt of the externalized consequences being shouldered by communities of color. Unfortunately, Buffalo is no exception.

As described in the One Region Forward Fair Housing Equity Assessment, from Interstate 190 to NYS Route 33 and NYS Route 198, in green lighting these highways:

“Public officials leveraged massive public works projects aimed to facilitate the rise of the automobile and expedite suburban commuting to additional end: the construction of highways through urban neighborhoods served to displace and disconnect emerging bases of African-American political power. At the same time these interventions undercut economic opportunities and activity within neighborhoods by allowing traffic (and customers) to quickly bypass city neighborhoods for new auto- centric commercial development. The legacy of these roadways has further created communities of environmental justice concerns where low-income and minority populations are now subjected to high volumes of car and truck emissions. 

Nowhere in Buffalo was the intrusion of highways on neighborhoods more apparent than the construction of Route 33. Also known as the [Kensington] Expressway, this highway was named after the grand Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway that was torn out for its construction. Humboldt Parkway was the spine of emerging black middle- class neighborhood of Hamlin Park and its link to the great public spaces of The Parade (now MLK Park) and Delaware Park. However, the local (white) power elite welcomed the destruction as a sign of progress. In fact, as New York State footed the lion’s share of the bill for the project, Buffalo’s then-mayor Steven Pankow reportedly proclaimed, “Never has Buffalo been offered so much for so little”.

humboldt pkwy with trees

humboldt pkwy trees cut  Streets_Humboldt_Mudpit_construction_1960s_B.jpg__320x259_q85

The Restore Our Community Coalition was formed in 2010 with a vision for restoring the grand parkway that was once the central defining and unifying element of this neighborhood. They are building a strong cohort of organizational and individual stakeholders to rally momentum for beginning to right the wrong done to this neighborhood. More information about this important work and more back story about the Parkway and ways to get involved can be found on their website.

A Legacy of Segregation and Discrimination: Redlining

…the housing sector is a prime example of the confluence of influences, often working together, to tilt the playing field away from communities of color.


In Tuesday’s post, we alluded to the multiple institutions, agencies and individual actors that contributed to the development of racial and geographic segregation and discrimination in the Buffalo Niagara region.

When it comes to the shape of our communities and the vast geographic disparities that exist, the housing sector is a prime example of the confluence of influences, often working together to tilt the playing field away from communities of color. In the 20th century and through the subprime lending crisis that still reverberates today, the federal government, private lending and real estate industries each played explicit and interconnecting roles in the decline of urban areas, particularly in communities of color.

We can see the seeds of the de-urbanization and sanctioned housing segregation that was rampant throughout the middle 20th century planted in the tail end of the Great Depression. Redlining, the practice of denying one group of people equal service, terms or access, became an official federal housing policy beginning in 1937, and the trajectory that it established for communities throughout the city has continued to this day. Based on this policy, the federal government would not insure mortgages in areas they deemed prone to “adverse influences”, with those influences being defined almost entirely on the presence of residents of color.

HOLC redline map

As described in the One Region Forward Equity Assessment (FHEA):

“[The] practice of redlining restricted the flow of capital to many neighborhoods, essentially sealing their fate as communities of decline. Terms such as “protection from adverse influences” and “infiltration of inharmonious racial or nationality groups” were at best thinly veiled phrases used to delineate of minority neighborhoods where banks were advised or self-determined not to lend or to lend sparingly… [It has been] argued that the Federal Housing Administration “did more to institutionalize redlining than any other agency by categorizing mortgages according to their risk level and encouraging private lenders who wanted insurance for their mortgages to do the same”… the harm caused by this [ensuing] decline was both individual and collective, immediate and long- term, impacting at first housing but eventually nearly every facet of access and opportunity for communities of color across the country and specifically in Buffalo Niagara.”

A City of Buffalo neighborhood conditions analysis shows 60 years after the institutionalization of redlining shows how government created maps became a self-fulfilling prophecy for communities of color.
A City of Buffalo neighborhood conditions analysis shows 60 years after the institutionalization of redlining shows how government created maps became a self-fulfilling prophecy for communities of color.

[Recently, CityLab highlighted mapping work done by Evan Tachovsky at Belt Magazine revealing similar lasting impacts of redlining in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.]

Combined with other federal policies, such as suburban mortgage incentives through the Veterans Administration, the interstate highway system, the HUD – Neighborhood Composition Rule used to segregate and ultimately stigmatize public housing and, later, the exclusion of single and two family houses from fair housing laws, helped dramatically fueled and, arguably, created white flight. Again from the FHEA:

“While some of the residents of diversifying city neighborhoods were content to live in integrated communities, others fled because they did not want to live near blacks. And while some preferred the allure of the white picket fence, others’ hands were forced by a slew of programs and regulations that severely restricted their options. White flight from the city was aided and abetted by the previously mentioned government backed mortgage insurance providers, with additional FHA policies drove investment away from home renovation projects, multiple unit dwellings, attached housing and houses on small lots – essentially most forms of urban development. The combination of low interest rates, low down payments and new construction techniques additionally made it cheaper in many cases to buy a home in the suburbs than to rent a home in the city.”

Far from acting alone, these government policies were extremely lucrative for many in the private sector, especially the finance, real estate and construction industries. Real estate and financial industry manipulation, restrictive race-based housing covenants, blockbusting, steering, speculation and unfair and exploitative lending practices all played a role and fostered a geographic imbalance and generational wealth gap that still exists today.

The One Region Forward Equity Assessment goes into these practices in greater detail, but it also outlines a history of resistance of everyday citizens — such as the early efforts of the Masten District Community Relations Council, and the ongoing efforts of Housing Opportunities Made Equal — fighting for ethical business practices and equal treatment under the law.

It’s available here.

Separate and Unequal in Buffalo Niagara

“The consequences of racial and ethnic segregation and discrimination directly impact individuals, neighborhoods and the region as a whole.”


In the 120 years since the case of Plessy v. Ferguson — which established the doctrine of separate but equal — morality, experience and, eventually, the law have proven time and again that separate can never be equal.

Yet in Buffalo Niagara we struggle, as do nearly all U.S. regions, with intense racial and ethnic segregation.

From the opportunity gaps that we experience, and that our research verifies, it is clear that Buffalo Niagara is also intensely unequal.

A Statistical Explanation of Segregation  SOURCE: Brown University US2010
A Statistical Explanation of Segregation
SOURCE: Brown University US2010

The stats can get complicated but simply reinforce what we have known to be true for too long. For instance, the Regional Index of Dissimilarity measures how one racial or ethnic group is distributed throughout the region as compared to another racial or demographic group. On a scale of 0-100, with 60 generally being considered a very high level of segregation, this measure conveys the percentage of one group that would need to move in order to achieve perfect integration with the other group. The divide between black and white is largest of any differential in Buffalo Niagara at a striking 71.

The “Main Street divide” is real, and it is stark. Nationally, the Buffalo Niagara Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranks high in segregation – as 6th most segregated on the White-Black index of the 102 largest metros, 21st in White- Hispanic segregation and as the most segregated on the White-Asian index.

Far from just dictating what sign of a geographic line people live on, the divide also greatly affects the access to opportunities and to services that people have on a daily basis. This unequal access leads to employment and achievement statistics that are skewed against people of color. The poverty rate of the white population in the region, then, is only 9.6%, but for African-Americans it is 36.1%, for Hispanic/Latino populations it is 35.8%, Asian/Pacific Islander 25.6% and Native Americans 23.5%.

An On-the-Ground Explanation of Segregation East Ferry (above) One Block East of Main Street West Ferry (below) One Block West of Main Street
An On-the-Ground Explanation of Segregation
ABOVE: East Ferry One Block East of Main Street; BELOW: West Ferry One Block West of Main Street via Google Maps

Because this inequality is widespread, pervasive and long standing, many of the factors contributing to segregation are buried under assumptions, stereotypes and misinformation so that the victims of an unequal system are too often blamed for its outcomes. Yet this imbalance continues to hold back individuals and region as a whole. As further described in the One Region Forward Equity Assessment:

…populations [of color] in the region suffer from reduced opportunity and outcomes in academic and occupational achievement, suffer poorer personal health and reduced quality of life.

The lack of economic vibrancy in poor neighborhoods reduces the municipal tax base making it more challenging for local governments to provide adequate levels of services, amenities and infrastructure throughout the region.

The inability to access employment, or additional challenges faced in accessing employment, in economically isolated neighborhoods means direct costs to government in the form of increased public assistance.

Concentrations of poverty and lack of mainstream economic opportunity have also led to higher areas of crime, reflecting an increased burden on the criminal justice system. However, disparities in law enforcement skewed against minority populations have also created huge familial and social strains within minority communities as a disproportionate number of families lose loved ones to incarceration.

Sanctioned and covert institutional financial policies and practices and the distorted economies of low-income neighborhoods further restrict access to the main stream economy and compound the difficulty of breaking the generational cycle of poverty.”

In short, there is a high universal cost of concentrated and racialized poverty. In fact, the The Equality of Opportunity Project has found that both whites and non-whites have lesser chances of escaping poverty and climbing the economic ladder in regions that are more highly segregated.

There is a distinct advantage to the region in addressing these issues and, as mentioned in an earlier post, a host of individuals and organization are working on these issues, growing a large and inclusive movement to achieve racial equity in Buffalo Niagara, but the work is far from complete.

In future posts, we’ll delve into both some of the root policy and practice causes of segregation and inequality in the region, as well as the recommendations coming out of the One Region Forward Equity Assessment.

Mapping Western New York’s Changing Population

Since 1990, Buffalo Niagara has seen a marked increase in diversity, but, at a macro level, the region remains more homogenous than New York or the U.S. as a whole. At a micro level, the diversification is not uniform across municipalities or throughout Buffalo Niagara’s communities.

 

As noted in the regional FHEA, Buffalo Niagara has seen an overall decrease in population, but the increase in populations of color “actually masks a larger population decline among the white population throughout the region. From 1990 to 2000, for instance, the White population of Buffalo Niagara dropped nearly 61,000 people, but the overall loses were offset by a total increase of 41,550 people in Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Other Race categorizations.”

Demographic trends in Buffalo Niagara 1980-2010 SOURCE: Brown University US2010 Discover America in a New Century
Demographic trends in Buffalo Niagara 1980-2010
SOURCE: Brown University US2010 Discover America in a New Century

Every municipality in the region now has a higher share of populations of color than in 1990. But delving into the details within communities, it is clear that there are concentrations of diversification, while many communities remain almost entirely white.

change in racial composition by muniAt a neighborhood level, the highest increases in populations of color are occurring throughout Buffalo’s west, north and far east sides and in central Niagara Falls. In the first ring suburban communities, are diversifying mainly nearest their borders to the city of Buffalo: western Cheektowaga, south and west Amherst and portions of the southern end of Tonawanda.

change in racial composition by tractThe traditionally African-American neighborhoods on Buffalo’s near east side and the region’s Native American Nations represent the only communities in the region that have a smaller percentage of people of color than in 1990. On the near east side this is largely driven by an outflow of African-American residents throughout the 2000s, but development pressures along Main Street and around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are also fostering fears of displacement as property values and real estate speculation increase.Black - African-American population change 2000-2010Though overall level of segregation throughout the region are trending downwards, segregation levels are still disproportionately high in Buffalo Niagara, and population of color are largely geographically concentrated: African-Americans in and near Buffalo’s east side and in Niagara Falls, Latino/ Hispanic populations along the Niagara River in Buffalo, and Asians on Buffalo’s west side and in southwestern Amherst.

racial and ethnic distribution in buffalo niagaraThough economic arguments are often cited as the reason some communities have low shares of populations of color, a test that controls for economic factors actually reveals that these arguments cannot account for the segregation that we observe and experience in Buffalo Niagara, with larger than expected shares of white population — and lower shared of persons of color — in the majority of Buffalo Niagara’s municipalities with very notable exceptions in and around the core cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

deviation from predicted racial shareTomorrow we’ll take a closer look at how this racial and ethnic segregation manifests itself throughout the region.

 

Special thanks to Brian Conley from the UB Regional Institute who created these maps, all of which can be found in the One Region Forward Fair Housing Equity Assessment.

Defining an Equitable Community


Buffalo Niagara will be an equitable community when all people – regardless of how they look, who they know or who they love, what language they speak, what they believe, whatever their level of means or ability, when or where they were born, where they live, where they go to school or why or how long they’ve called this place home – have the opportunity, resources and tools needed to achieve their potential, to lead healthy and fulfilling lives with rewarding work, and to access, experience, and participate in all our region has to offer while ensuring others – now and in future generations – can do the same.


Buffalo Niagara just completed its first regional plan in decades, and as the name implies the plan has pulled innumerable stakeholders together to create a singular vision: One Region Forward.

Though the effort may be united, that should and does not imply a vision of homogeneity.

In fact, amidst unprecedented demographic change, the plan takes an explicit and intentional look at the unequal conditions between racial and ethnic groups and how geographic inequity has reinforced disparities over decades.

The somewhat clumsily titled (*cough* HUD requirement *cough*) Fair Housing Equity Assessment explores the past and present challenges to equity and opportunity and makes recommendations for future actions to create a united and inclusive region.
To help guide and inform this project, Make Communities and the UB Regional Institute assembled an equity stakeholders committee, whose first task was to define a vision of an equitable community.racial and ethnic distribution in buffalo niagara

 

The necessary legal structures and protections of equity have developed a complex and jargonistic language, one that is not only hard to understand on its face, but also has become weighted through decades of ideological battles on the right and left. Words like ‘protected classes’ may resonate with those steeped in the struggle to ensure civil rights are upheld on a daily basis. However, this is not the language that average Buffalonians — whether white or people of color — use to define or to talk about their own experiences.

The equity stakeholders committee, with decades of experience in community, non-profit, government and business turned away from language that has the potential to divide.

The collective vision of an equitable community aimed, instead, at the heart of the equity issue in terms that everyone can understand and relate to: all people should have the opportunity, resources and tools needed to achieve their potential, now and in future generations.

With an straightforward, common sense approach to talking about those opportunities we want for our own families and our neighbors, the next step was then able to dive deeper into the the conditions on the ground to see if Buffalo Niagara is living up to this vision.

Unfortunately, the research shows that there are large gaps in opportunity, influenced by how people look, where they were born and where they live.

The team at One Region Forward is united, though, around the belief that this should not be the case, and future posts will unpack how we got to where we are and what we can collectively to do live into the vision of an equitable community.

Expanding Opportunity in Buffalo Niagara

 

Yesterday’s post asked what the present holds for the residents who can’t wait for tomorrow.

The question looms large in Buffalo.

For all the promise in Buffalo’s revitalization, it is clear that we have much work to do to overcome the deep divisions within our region.

Make Communities recently partnered with the University at Buffalo Regional Institute to produce a comprehensive study on equity and opportunity in the region: the Fair Housing Equity Assessment.

We identified tremendous gaps in opportunity, and found that these gaps are too often defined by race, ethnicity and geography.

FHEA Opportunity AreasThese discrepancies in opportunity are not random, or even unintentional.

A host of systemic factors led to extreme geographic segregation and racial and ethnic disparities throughout the Buffalo Niagara Region in educational attainment, wealth and quality-of-life that we see today. These factors have included local, state and federal policy and investment decisions, discriminatory practices within the private sector and individual actions and biases.

But in identifying these factors, we begin to understand how these practices and policies can be undone. In fact, some of these policies and practices have been discontinued, outlawed or overturned. However, there has not been a systemic response of the scale and scope necessary to overcome generations of ingrained inequality.

To reverse these trends, the decision-making framework within the region needs to be more intentionally inclusive and reflective of the pervasive challenges of geographic, racial and ethnic disparities.

That will only happen as the chorus of advocates, activists and everyday citizens grows larger and louder – a movement that is already underway, with new groups and initiatives like Open Buffalo, the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable and the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition emerging to help support, unite and supplement the organizations and individuals who have been steeped in this work for years and decades.

The analysis and insight in this report benefited immensely from the direct involvement of many of these champions for equity and opportunity that made up a stakeholder group helping to guide this analysis.

This blog will continue to highlight portions of the Fair Housing Equity Assessment, including barriers to opportunity and recommendations for charting a new path – a path that includes all of Buffalo’s residents in the promise of prosperity that, until now, too small a segment of the population has felt first hand.