To say it was a busy summer in PUSH Buffalo's Green Development Zone would be an understatement. Projects of every size were launched, including the opening of their 14th Street community garden, construction of a state-of-the-art rain garden on Chenango Street, and completion of major renovations on two formerly vacant, Victorian-era style buildings at 460 and 398 Massachusetts Ave. Renovations at their third property, located at 397 Massachusetts Ave. (lead image) are slated for completion within the coming weeks. And on top of all of the things taking shape within the neighborhood, PUSH is also breaking ground in the greater Buffalo area and Erie County with its newest program, PUSH Green.
With a landbank of approximately 50 parcels within the 25-block radius of its Green Development Zone--half vacant lots, half vacant structures--PUSH has plenty of project space to work with. While many of the vacant lots have been transformed into traditional gardens, an alternative that PUSH has embraced is the creation of rain gardens in these lots. According to Britney McClain, PUSH development director, the rain gardens are a green solution for addressing the combined issue of stormwater management and sewer overflow. "During the event of a rainstorm, raw sewage spills over, and it's a little costly to dig up an 1880s sewer system," McClain said. "We're trying green infrastructure, which is the most logical step for us because we own so many parcels of vacant land."
The basic premise behind the rain garden is to dig a trench into the vacant lot and fill it with sand and loose gravel, as well as water-loving plants native to the region. The runoff from homes and parking lots that would otherwise accumulate and lead to sewer overflow can be channeled into that rain garden and be absorbed by the plants. The latest and greatest of Buffalo's rain gardens include a completed garden on Massachusetts Ave. and a larger garden on Chenango Street that is still in progress.
PUSH also repurposed a vacant lot on 14th Street into a 28-plot community garden (photos above). These plots were rented out to families in the adjacent neighborhood blocks for the duration of the growing season. Residents were responsible for bringing their own seeds to plant and PUSH took care of maintaining the surrounding land and water system in the garden. "We have a smaller garden on Hampshire Street with 15 plots that was very successful last year," said McClain. "The 14th Street garden construction began during April of this year, was completed in May, and the garden was in full bloom within a matter of weeks." According to McClain, these community gardens have become staples for produce, given that access to local, fresh foods in the neighborhood is so scarce. They have also proven to be a means for community-building between residents. "A lot of people are meeting each other for the first time in the gardens," she said. "We saw a lot of sharing going on, with both food and farming techniques."
With the third piece of its Massachusetts Avenue Development project nearing completion, PUSH will have accomplished its largest housing development project to date. The MAD project took three formerly vacant Victorian-era buildings on Massachusetts Ave. and completely renovated them into energy efficient buildings. The building at 460 Massachusetts Ave. (learn more
) has been converted into an apartment complex with 11 residences (photos below). The building also has an old storefront that will be converted into a community resource area for meetings and events.
"These were major renovations, the last building literally didn't have a foundation. They were totally gutted on the interior and given new roofing," said McClain. "We did try to save as many of the original materials as possible, such as old railings, original siding, original hardwood flooring. Anything that was salvageable was re-used."
In order to ensure that they were energy efficient, PUSH equipped each of the buildings with state-of-the-art green building features such as hardwood floors, ENERGY STAR appliances, metal roofs, HardiPlank fiber cement siding, radiant floor heating, high efficiency heating systems, and high levels of insulation. Each of the units is also ENERGY STAR Homes certified.
The organization intends to maintain ownership of all three properties so that they will be able to control rent prices and keep them affordable. PUSH is always accepting applications for these locations, though applicants must meet a certain income criteria. Households must make at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income. PUSH will accept subsidies like Section 8. Tours of the 460 Massachusetts Ave. building are being hosted on Sept. 20 at 8 a.m. and Sept. 29 at 9 a.m. The tours last one hour and space is limited, so contact Britney McClain via email at Britney@pushbuffalo.org
to RSVP for a slot.
In an effort to expand its reach beyond the borders of the Green Development Zone, PUSH has developed its latest program area: PUSH Green. "Our goal is to reduce the carbon footprint in the Zone's neighborhood and figure out how we can get everyone access to energy efficiency. Now we are taking those principles and expanding it to other neighborhoods in Buffalo and greater Erie County," said Kate Howard, PUSH Green program manager. "Residents are paying over $70 million a year more for gas and electric bills than they can afford to pay. This program is really working to combat that and allow people to live in a more comfortable home where they're not paying more for their utilities than they are for their rent."
PUSH is now working through Green Jobs, Green NY to increase the number of energy efficient housing upgrades in our region. According to Howard, only 1200 out of 8 million homes are currently considered energy efficient. The State is now working with PUSH to be on the ground getting homeowners involved and seeking sustainable upgrades, regardless of their income.
"PUSH Green came out of the Green Development Zone. Everything this program is trying to get Erie County residents on par with, we already have every time we rehab a property," Howard said. "Our efforts were formerly concentrated on the West Side, and now we're expanding them to all of Erie County."
According to Howard, PUSH Green will be working its way into North Buffalo this fall by doing canvassing and outreach events, as well as working with block clubs and community groups to help get residents into the program.
For more information on any of PUSH's current projects, visit their website at pushbuffalo.org