Poverty in Buffalo: A Problem that Needs a Plan – Mark J.F. Schroeder

Progress in a city is not solely determined by downtown luxuries, things that many residents cannot even afford. Progress in a city is achieved when every resident can reach their full potential, when families feel safe in their neighborhoods and secure in their homes, when kids can receive a quality education and grow into adults who give back to their communities, when government administrations and departments efficiently provide leadership and services for their citizens. That’s progress.

by Mark J.F. Schroeder

We have a problem here in Buffalo. More than half of the city’s children live in poverty. A third of adults live in poverty. Four zip codes in Buffalo have seen poverty rates climb to over 40 percent. It’s evident we live in a “tale of two cities,” and it’s been left unaddressed for far too long. To fix a problem, you need a plan.

I happen to have one.

I have a vision of a city that has a plan for EVERY neighborhood – North, South, East, and West. A city where every department, every agency, and every employee are working together – off that same plan – to make sure that no one gets left behind. Our neighborhoods do not feel the effects of private investment in downtown development, and it’s time Buffalo got its priorities in order. Progress in a city is not solely determined by downtown luxuries, things that many residents cannot even afford. Progress in a city is achieved when every resident can reach their full potential, when families feel safe in their neighborhoods and secure in their homes, when kids can receive a quality education and grow into adults who give back to their communities, when government administrations and departments efficiently provide leadership and services for their citizens. That’s progress.

Poverty has a reciprocal effect on so many aspects of life: housing, education, mental and physical health, public safety, transportation, employment, and overall development of communities. I have a plan that addresses these aspects of life in Buffalo so people can be lifted out of poverty and into lives they desire and deserve.

I call my plan the Compass Plan because it places an emphasis on neighborhoods – North, South, East, and West – while focusing on four key points that encapsulate and address the challenges facing our city: Neighborhood development, Safe streets, Employee excellence, and a Work plan. Under my Compass Plan, no neighborhood gets left behind and everyone has a seat at the table.

Compass Plan Point One: Neighborhood Development

For too long, city government has ignored neighborhood business districts. From Black Rock to Babcock, from Riverside to Parkside, from Hamlin Park to Front Park – it’s time that we focus on our neighborhoods by helping small businesses, not just big developers.

My plans for Neighborhood Development include offering assistance for business owners and job seekers where they work and live, helping to improve their neighborhoods in the process. We will provide small businesses with matching grants to help them invest in our neighborhoods and revive our local business strips. My administration will offer business owners free training in accounting, tax preparation, and marketing to help them thrive and create jobs in our neighborhoods.

Entrepreneurs and start-ups will have access to neighborhood business incubators so their new enterprise can hit the ground running. These “One Stop Shops” across the city will also help job seekers by linking them to potential employers and offering them a chance to improve their credentials.

I also support raising the minimum wage to $15 indexed to inflation, as well as investing in minority-and-women-owned businesses (MWBE) to promote high-wage and high-demand jobs.

I have a plan for free GED classes, job training centers, and resume workshops in every part of the city so people can pursue a career they can be proud of. Currently, the city only offers help to job seekers in one downtown location.

I know how to establish these centers because I have done it before.

In 2002 while I served in the Assembly, I founded a chamber of commerce to help small businesses to invest in our city, along with an education center that has become the most successful program in the state. The education center offers free GED classes, vocational training, and computer training so students can keep up with a growing and competitive technology-based economy. More than 700 students have received their GED thanks to the program’s unique curriculum, and for several years, the program has led the state in GED accreditation rates with 73 percent of the students being placed into college. Everyone in the City of Buffalo, regardless of their zip code, deserves the opportunity to advance their lives.

North, South, East, and West – every part of the city will have business resources and education centers so our residents can learn and achieve.

Neighborhood Development Near the Central Terminal & East Side

If I’m elected mayor, I’ll immediately begin the process to reverse the decision to put a new train station downtown rather than where it belongs, which is the Central Terminal. As mayor, I will bring trains back to the Central Terminal, and a great deal more, including housing, retail, and museum space.

Claims that the site selection process was public and transparent don’t jibe with the barricades on the street outside of the selection committee meeting and the media and public’s inability to attend. The process also ignored nearly 90 percent of public opinion, demonstrating an utter disregard for neighborhood development by the current administration. Buffalo needs a leader that listens to its people instead of slamming the door in their faces.

Investing in the Central Terminal invests in the East Side, thereby spurring development in a neighborhood that has been neglected for too long.

I’ll tackle the tough challenges as the mayor of Buffalo, and that includes the Central Terminal. It’s time this city stopped taking the easy way out. People deserve better.

Compass Plan Point Two: Safe Streets

While my plan for Safe Streets focuses on police training, community policing, and ending violent crime, it’s well known that poverty is a major driver of crime. Everyone deserves a safe place to live and raise their family, and as mayor of Buffalo, I will make sure every street is safe.

My plan for Safe Streets focuses on increased training for police and emphasizes community policing. Under my administration, our police will have comprehensive and regular training, helping them to de-escalate dangerous situations, deal with drug addiction and mental illness, and work in tandem with residents to keep our streets safe. I will also implement nationally-renowned programs with a proven track record of curbing gang violence, getting guns off our streets, and fighting the heroin epidemic.

It can be difficult to find gainful employment after entering the criminal justice system, and without employment, crime can become a last resort. The cycle can either continue like a revolving door, or we rehabilitate people with records and assist them in finding employment. To do this, I will work with and encourage local businesses to apply for the New York State Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program (WOTC). The WOTC provides credits to businesses who hire job seekers with barriers to employment – which includes disabled veterans, youth looking for summer employment, and ex-felons – so people can get back to work, provide for their families, and contribute to their communities.

North, South, East, and West – police across the city will receive the training they say they’ve been “starving” for, streets will be safe, and people seeking second chances will be connected with resources to help reacquaint them with and contribute to their communities.

Compass Plan Point Three: Employee Excellence

Under my plan for Employee Excellence, city employees will be hired and promoted based on what they know, not who they know.

There are many qualified and capable people across Buffalo unable to find a decent job with benefits. Why are these same people left to struggle just because they don’t have a friend or relative working for the city? When I’m mayor, city hiring practices will not be based on nepotism or patronage; they’ll be based on qualifications and hard work.

Commissioners and other key leadership posts will be held by experienced professionals, and rank-and-file city employees will be offered opportunities to improve their credentials. Workers will be offered advanced job training, tuition assistance, and professional certification programs, so they can better serve the residents of our city.

When a city is run efficiently by qualified professionals, it delivers better services for its residents, resulting in better outcomes.

North, South, East, and West – every part of the city will see what happens when we employ a qualified and dedicated workforce.

Compass Plan Point Four: Work Plan

The final point of my Compass Plan, the Work Plan, will improve the way city government and agencies are run – producing better outcomes, especially for residents who need assistance the most. My plan focuses on long-term planning and a streamlined approach to managing the city’s many departments and agencies.

Everyone knows that you can’t tackle the tough challenges unless you have a plan. The City Charter calls for a four-year strategic plan, but in 12 years, not one has been submitted by the current administration. It’s well past time to take a look at the big picture and create a long-term plan that works for every part of the city.

As mayor, I will coordinate housing, economic development, and infrastructure projects so that they enhance each other and revitalize the city’s neighborhoods. I will also ensure every city department, every agency, and every employee is operating under a single, all-encompassing plan.

It’s also time that the alphabet soup of city government – Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (B.M.H.A.), Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (B.U.R.A), Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (B.U.D.C.), and the Buffalo Employment and Training Center (B.E.T.C.) – worked together off a single plan, instead of wasting residents’ tax dollars with no accountability, no transparency, and no results.

The B.M.H.A. is a prime example of why Buffalo needs my Work Plan. As mayor, I’ll fix the waste and mismanagement at BMHA, freeing up the resources needed to invest in the authority’s workforce. For too long, the BMHA has focused on giving handouts to private developers, instead of proving safe, dignified housing to tenants. The BMHA will be accountable to me when I’m mayor, and every employee and board member will be focused on improving conditions for tenants, and building the additional affordable housing our city needs in an ethical and transparent way. We owe it to the people who live there, and we owe to the taxpayers who fund the B.M.H.A.

In addition to guiding development, a streamlined and coordinated approach to city government will also help combat public health hazards like lead poisoning. A 2017 Reuters report classified Buffalo as a “Hotbed for Lead,” due to high lead levels for children in several city zip codes.

Rochester inspects every one-family and two-family house for lead on a regular cycle, and it has led to an 85 percent reduction countywide in children testing positive for lead over the past decade. But instead of learning from our neighbors, City Hall buries its head in the sand and denies there is a real problem.

Under my administration, there will be an anti-lead task force that directs the Department of Permits and Inspection to test homes for lead paint on a regular basis, and calls on the Buffalo Water Authority to conduct more rigorous testing of lead in the water supply. Most importantly, we will educate and assist citizens on how to eliminate the risk of lead from their homes, whether it is the water they drink, or the paint on their house. This problem should have been addressed a long time ago, yet action still has not been taken. That changes when I become mayor.

North, South, East, and West – every part of the city see noticeable differences once city departments and agencies operate in a comprehensively planned, efficient, and transparent manner.

Throughout my career, I’ve lived by the adage, “Plan your work, work your plan.” And now it is time Buffalo had a plan – for our neighborhoods, for our people, for our future

It’s time the City of Buffalo starts practicing a saying by the late Senator Paul Wellstone – especially for our impoverished, vulnerable, and disenfranchised communities: “When we all do better, we all do better.” I wholeheartedly believe we can, and under my leadership, we will.

Mark J.F. Schroeder is a Democratic primary candidate in the 2017 Buffalo mayoral election. He currently serves as City Comptroller. Buffalo’s Democratic primary is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2017.

CounterPoint

Content for August 2017 supported by Buffalo Theatre Guide.

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