Published on January 6th, 2016 | by Bradley Cantor0
Innovation Spotlight: PUSH
Written by Shannon Trubatch
For a number of immigrants and refugees moving to the Queen City, the West Side of Buffalo is often the landing zone, and the place they come to call home. Today, it is home to a diverse population of ethnic and racial communities, including individuals and families from Somalia, the Middle East, Puerto Rico, and Southeast Asia, which makes for a vibrant and culturally rich neighborhood stretching from Richmond Avenue to the Niagara River.
In the past, this neighborhood has suffered from significant neglect and blight, and is home to one of the most impoverished populations in the nation with a per capita income of approximately $9000. However, it is currently experiencing a revitalization, reflecting the diverse demographic and the many active community leaders present throughout the area.
As Western New York is considering the impacts of climate change, sustainable investments in low-income communities such as the West Side are considered critical. One of the organizations working to bring about sustainable change on the West Side is PUSH Buffalo, or People United for Sustainable Housing. In 2005, PUSH began their work of restoring vacant and abandoned buildings throughout the area.
“Oftentimes they’ll just demolish these houses and look to get rid of them,” says Jason Kulaszewski, PUSH Green Program Director. ”We saw them as community assets, and sought ways to return them to the residents of the community.”
In 2008, PUSH launched one of their latest projects, the Green Zone Development (GDZ), which seeks to develop green, affordable housing throughout the West Side, and has found the link that exists between the environmental movement and the movement to create jobs and alleviate poverty in low-income urban neighborhoods, inspired by the Green Jobs movement and other local initiatives.
Since 2005, PUSH and its non-profit development company, the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company (BNSC), has acquired and rehabilitated 18 units of housing, and in 2013, they won a New York State grant to renovate and build 46 new units. Some of the renovations include weatherization and insulation of the homes, which helps to bring the cost of utility bills down for residents and lowers its carbon footprint.
“I’ve actually had a homeowner save $400 a month, which over a period of years really adds up to a lot of extra money,” says Kulaszewski. With the money saved from utility bills, residents of the GDZ can invest in their families and their communities in ways they were unable to prior.
The Green Development Zone also seeks to experiment with the most advanced renewable energy systems and green construction, which is exemplified by their Net Zero House. The house, located at 10 Winter St, produces all of the energy that it uses on-site through a 4.5-KW solar panel array on the main roof which generates electricity for the house, a solar-powered water heater on the street side roof which provides hot water, and a geothermal system, embedded underground in the lot next door, which heats the house.
In addition to its rehabilitation and building projects, PUSH also aims to prevent gentrification that would displace low-income residents from the area and diminish their housing options by keeping community control of housing and land in the neighborhood.
PUSH also has initiatives in place to create job pathways for members of the community by calling on a growing network of high-road contractors who are committed to hiring new workers from the West Side. For instance, Solar Liberty, who is contracted to install solar panels throughout the GDZ, has a Community Benefit Agreement with PUSH to insure such measures. In doing so, PUSH provides residents with experience and skills in green construction, as well as a sense of pride in their community.
“When we discuss neighborhood stabilization, it’s not only about lowering carbon emissions through lowering gas usage and implementing solar energy,” says Kulaszewski, “but also about creating jobs and a sustainable community.”
The Green Development Zone demonstrates what can be done when neighborhood resources are brought under community control and stewardship, and serves as a national model for communities across the country who are looking to implement similar programs. Kulaszewski hopes that the work PUSH is doing will also influence wealthier communities in Western New York to create low-carbon homes.
“If it can be done on the West Side – where there’s 45 different languages being spoken, a huge refugee population, and a large number of low-income residents – it should be able to be done everywhere.”