UB development gentrifies Fruit Belt further, should support ethical development

The Fruit Belt neighborhood is being rapidly gentrified, and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biological Sciences’ new downtown location is playing a big role in the process with minimal effort to deter it.

Gentrification raises the land value and economic status of a neighborhood, increasing its desirability for middle and upper-class residents, but almost always leading to the displacement of long-time low-income residents.

The displacement of vulnerable communities is a nationwide problem. Buffalo is already the sixth most racially segregated in the U.S., and continued gentrification would only make the problem worse.

When low-income families are pushed out of their neighborhoods, they are forced to find housing in areas that are not close to good schools. These areas tend to lack access to transit, cultural institutions and social services, which prevents social mobility and keeps low-income communities of color in poverty.

While some Spectrum editors said they feel gentrification is inevitable and it is a price that must be paid for economic growth, others believe the process can be slowed by measures that protect low-income households and vulnerable communities.

The city of Buffalo has taken some steps to address gentrification. In January, Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen announced plans to set aside a land trust in the Fruit Belt neighborhood. A land trust is a private, nonprofit corporation that owns and develops donated land while marketing properties to low- and moderate-income households, allowing residents to buy homes at below market value. The trust would last 99 years and keep the land in the community’s possession and away from outside developers.

As of February, the land trust had not been created, but community members are still advocating for the trust to be put in place.

Mayor Byron Brown’s Complete Community Initiative is a plan to protect low-income families in “historically under-resourced,” diverse neighborhoods as property values soar.

There are also community-based efforts against gentrification. People United for Sustainable Housing works towards green, affordable housing and sustainable development through a combination of grassroots strategies and political advocacy. PUSH wants policies like inclusionary zoning, a type of municipal and county planning ordinance that requires a share of new construction to be affordable to people with low to moderate incomes. And the Buffalo chapter of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit that supports community development, focuses on building “financial and organizational capacity, [investing] in their projects and [connecting] them with a national network of experts and resources that can help make their communities stronger.”

The university could have avoided displacing some families by constructing on-campus apartments for medical students, similar to the apartments at the SUNY Upstate Medical University campus. Looking ahead, the university should strongly consider constructing housing for students to slow gentrification in the area.

The city of Buffalo should also encourage development along abandon parts of Main Street, particularly by metro stations. Students could live in those developments without displacing historical neighborhoods and use the subway to commute to the medical campus. The proposed smart corridor should spur on the revitalization of the largely vacant Main Street, but the city could do more to incentivize developers.

As a state school, UB has a particular responsibility to be aware of its effects on the surrounding community. Unfortunately, the construction of the new medical campus has focused heavily on what a boon it will be for the downtown economy, ignoring the effects of the new location on the vulnerable populations that already live there.

While the new medical campus is an exciting achievement for the university, it is not without negative consequences for the surrounding community. Going forward, the socially responsible thing for the university to do would be acknowledging its role in the gentrification of the Fruit Belt and actively advocating for measures such as inclusionary zoning, rent control and supporting community organizations like PUSH.

The opinion desk can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com.