May 16, 2013

The Bailey Avenue Neighborhood is Working Towards a Brighter Future

There is some exciting momentum in the Bailey Avenue neighborhood as improvements are planned for the street, collaborations are under way, and a large section of the area was designated a Buffalo Promise Neighborhood last year. Abraham Cissé is often at the center of all this good news since he founded the Bailey Avenue Business Association (BBA) last year. The BBA stretches from Winspear to Genesee and includes almost 200 active businesses within those boundaries.
Promise Neighborhood
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood map and boundaries

Cissé has been in WNY since 1994 and moved to the Bailey Avenue area in 2004 from Cheektowaga. In his nearly ten years living and operating a business in the neighborhood, he has never had any problems arise. He operates an IT company called ABCIS Technology Services at 3163 Bailey Avenue in the former Varsity/Uptown Theatre with a storefront where they sell and repair computers and accessories.

The Varsity Theater 

The building is also home to a church, a tax office, and in the near future hopefully a Subway. He purchased the building in 2010 and moved from his former location directly across the street. “The building was an opportunity and I could see it’s potential,” Cissé said, “I see the value of a building like this in the community. It can be used for kids functions, school functions, and live entertainment.” The theater seats 630 people and is almost ready for use just as soon as heating and air conditioning issues have been resolved.

Inside the Varsity Theater

Just next door to Abraham’s building, a new early childhood education center is well underway and slated to open this year. The Oisehi Foundation approved a $1 million grant last March for its construction. This education center is part of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood improvements and will serve about 150 children from infancy to age five.

Childhood Center Rendering
Childhood Education Center rendering. The building is nearly complete

The BBA has reached out to local colleges like UB and Villa Maria to engage students in creating a better business district. Cissé has been talking with UB, offering the theater space for an off campus auditorium, noting that UB south campus does not have a comparable facility. Additionally, the BBA has been in discussion with UB’s Community Outreach program. Students from the business program at Villa Maria will be working with the BBA and individual owners to put together plans for improvements.

An important goal of the BBA has been about creating strategic partnerships with stakeholders like BPN, UDCDA (University District Community Development Association), UDBCC (University District Block Clubs Coalition), and the three Council Members, Richard Fontana, Damone Smith, and Bonnie Russell, all of whom preside over districts that encompass BBA.


Buffalo Police have recently increased their presence in the area at the request of residents and the BBA; the new E-District Chief Beaty has been very aggressive with thwarting crime since she took over the district. BPN was awarded a $962,000 grant from Bryne Criminal Justice in September, to be used for crime and safety prevention in the district.


They are currently working on having beat officers who would walk up and down Bailey Avenue patrolling. “The negative perception of Bailey Avenue is not the reality and the BBA is working diligently to change that perception,” said Cissé. Increasing a noticeable police presence should help people feel safer while shopping on Bailey Avenue.

The BBA and UDBCC have also implemented oversights and reviews for new businesses setting up shop on Bailey Avenue. Any new business must first be approved by the BBA and UDBCC and the owner must pass a background check to ensure they are current on their city taxes, they are not involved in nefarious activities, etc. Additionally, the BBA is looking for infrastructure improvements along Bailey that would possibly include repaving the street, tree plantings, bicycle lanes, and more.


Bailey Avenue has everything going for it to make it a desirable commercial strip; consistent foot traffic, a wide variety of shops and restaurants, close proximity to a large clientele (UB), and great density in the surrounding neighborhood. The combination of the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, the University District Community Development Association, the University District Block Clubs Coalition, planned infrastructure improvements, enhanced safety measures, and the BBA should ensure that the Bailey Avenue neighborhood is moving in the right direction.


For additional photos of the Bailey Avenue Neighborhood check out my Flickr page here.

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May 14, 2013

The Hamlin Park Neighborhood: A Strong Community and One You Should be Seriously Considering

Hamlin Park is a neighborhood that is very under the radar for most Buffalonians looking for a new place or suburbanites moving into the city. People assume simply because it's east of Main Street that there is no reason to consider it, which is a huge oversight. Those who live in Hamlin Park or are in the process of moving there now know better. Here are some of the biggest reasons why you should be looking to make Hamlin Park your home.
Northland Avenue

1) A Dedicated Community with Very Active Leadership: The Hamlin Park Community & Taxpayers Association (HPCTA) has been active since 1965 and continues to be a positive force in the neighborhood. The non-for-profit group was organized to be the local administrators of the Model Cities program in Hamlin Park from 1968 to 1975. Rather than disbanding after the program ended, the HPCTA stayed together and meets once a month, every month to discuss anything and everything related to the neighborhood. 

Some things the HPCTA does include offering a scholarship fund for students who live in or have ties to the Hamlin Park neighborhood. They are overseeing the restoration of the Old Stone Farmhouse at 60 Hedley Place and have been crucial in securing funding for the rehabilitation of several homes in the neighborhood. Additionally, they organize tree plantings and neighborhood beautification efforts including clean-ups, infrastructure improvements, maintenance of signage and landscaped features, etc.

Each block has its own block club that meets regularly as well and works with the greater HPCTA to ensure issues big and small are given attention. Everyone knows what is going on in the neighborhood, the only people who are left out of the loop are those who don't participate. Most families have been in Hamlin Park for several generations and as a result there is a lot of pride in keeping the neighborhood beautiful, tackling problems as quickly as possible, and lobbying City Hall for funding and consideration for improvement projects.
Humboldt Parkway II

2) Historic District Designation Offers Incentives: Hamlin Park was designated a local historic district in the 1990s, which went a long way to protect the historic character of the neighborhood. Any material changes to the exterior of homes that requires a permit, must be approved by the Preservation Board to ensure the work is done within the Department of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. While the designation meant the neighborhood would retain its historic charm, it didn't come with economic incentives.

However, the Hamlin Park Historic District is now listed on the State Register of Historic Places and is on the way to being approved by the National Park Service as a National Register Historic District. Preservation Studios completed all the work for the nomination, pro-bono and as a result homeowners and commercial property owners can utilize historic tax credits for qualified rehabilitation work. Here is an example of one such property on East Delavan that could be a great live/work space for someone.

If you own a contributing home in the district you can get a 20% tax credit for the approved work you do to the home. It basically includes anything related to the house itself including roof replacement, HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems, restoration of architectural features, windows, etc. There are three requirements to enroll in the program: the rehab cost must be at least $5000, 5% of that must be spent on the exterior ($250), and home must be a contributing structure. Here is the official application, which is very straightforward. 

Here is an example of the benefit. Let's say you have to replace your roof, want to restore your porch details, and need a new furnace and the total cost is $15,000. The homeowner credit is 20% of the rehab expenses, which in this case yields a $3000 tax credit, which is applied to your state income tax for the year the project is completed. If your state income tax is less than $3000, the credit covers the taxes and the difference is paid back to you in a refund.

Even better news, if you own an income producing property like renting a double or an industrial/commercial building, you are eligible for a 40% tax credit on rehab work. Just like the homeowner credit, 20% comes from the state and the other 20% comes from the federal government. If you're keeping track, that means almost half of your rehab expenses are pretty much covered.
Hughes Avenue

3) Proximity to Parks, Metro Rail, the Elmwood Village, the Medical Campus, and Expressways: Another fantastic selling point is the variety of different options for getting around Buffalo and the nearby recreation spots. For those unwilling to give up their cars, accessing the Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways are quick and easy. People more interested in sustainable modes of transportation have two options for Metro Rail stops; one at Main and Humboldt Parkway and one at East Delavan Avenue and Main Street.

The Main and Delavan entrance to Forest Lawn Cemetery is just a few blocks from the majority of homes in Hamlin Park for people who like to stroll and take in the landscape. The path around the Gala Waters in Delaware Park can be reached by bike in just over five minutes. Additionally, the Elmwood Village is a straight shot down Delavan Avenue, a mere seven minutes by bike, probably less for most people.

Young doctors and medical students with a lot of debt and little capital will appreciate the five minute drive or the ten minute bike ride from Hamlin Park (Northland and Jefferson Avenues) to the Medical Campus (Michigan and North Streets). When you're paying off big student loans and throwing away money renting, reducing your transportation costs can have a huge impact. That takes me into my next point.
Butler & Wohlers

4) Affordable Home Prices with Historic Character: Most of the housing stock in Hamlin Park was built between 1895 and the mid-1920s, which means plenty of architectural character and historic features. I assembled a complete list of all property sales in Hamlin Park and the average purchase price ranges from about $40,000 to $70,000, making it very affordable for most people. There are a few deals to be had at the In-Rem auction every October and some really great houses can go for less than those prices, like the one I'm in the process of buying. 

Many people are loving the ongoing revival in Buffalo and a lot of that is centered around the Elmwood Village and Allentown neighborhoods. As a result, housing prices have skyrocketed, rents are steadily high throughout, and people priced out of the housing market are forced to rent rather than own their own home.

The Elmwood Village/Allentown is close enough to Hamlin Park that walking, biking, or driving takes no time at all. In Hamlin Park you can spend your rent money on a mortgage payment instead, often close to the same price as renting in the Elmwood Village. Rather than throwing money away with an apartment that you won't see a return on your investment, buy a house and make a profit on your investment when you sell.

The homes in Hamlin Park are really lovely with their big open porches, natural woodwork throughout, and parcels that offer some outdoor space without too much to maintain. Tree lined streets provide a great canopy over the street and a ribbon of little parks run through the neighborhood. These ribbon parks are located on top of the Scajaquada Creek, which was covered by culverts in 1920s.
Butler Avenue at Wohlers
This is the same view, separated by almost 100 years. Not much has changed, but that's a good thing
Butler Avenue at Wohlers (4-17-1917 Buffalo Express)

5) A Stable, Walkable Community with Friendly Neighbors: There is an immeasurable value in having "eyes on the street" and neighbors who look out for one another. It deters crime, fosters good relationships amongst neighbors, and creates a unified community that can effectively overcome challenges. The head of the HPCTA, Stephanie Barber, is a force to be reckoned with and when she stands up for Hamlin Park, city hall listens. 

The main commercial thoroughfare is East Delavan Avenue, but at the moment there are only a few corner stores and barber shops. Many of the storefront buildings are maintained, but underutilized, which presents numerous opportunities. A small restaurant would be a great fit along the stretch and it could make a killing since many people in the area also note the lack of eating establishments and the desire to have them. Some other storefront buildings are also scattered throughout the area, like Northland and Jefferson Avenues.

Closer to Canisius College, there is a great little cafe that is undergoing a remodel at the moment. Located at the corner of Oakgrove and Hughes Avenues, E.M. Tea Cup Coffee is a nice fit in the neighborhood and provides a place to grab some breakfast, coffee, or an occasional small live performance. It's the only commercial building in that part of the area, but it fits well within the dense residential fabric.

I'm not moved in yet, but already love my neighbors. I kept an eye on the house during the winter and often went to shovel the sidewalk and driveway because it's never too early to be a good neighbor. About the third time I went to shovel, to my astonishment, my neighbors had already cleared the sidewalk and about ten feet of my driveway. That's not unique for my street, that's the typical level of good neighbors you can expect in Hamlin Park.
268 E. Delavan Avenue
An empty storefront just begging for a restaurant
Those are just five good reasons to move to Hamlin Park and you can bet that there are many more. Spend sometime in the area and talk to the neighbors and you'll probably fall in love with this fantastic neighborhood for the same reasons I have. For additional streetscape photos of Hamlin Park, check out my Flickr page here. 


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May 8, 2013

Homestead Eligible Properties: Buy a House in Buffalo for a Single Dollar

The Urban Homestead Program that is offered by the City of Buffalo enables qualified buyers to purchase a home that has been deemed "homestead eligible" for $1.00 and there are plenty of properties left. There are three main requirements when purchasing a homestead property; the owner must fix all code violations within 18 months, have immediate access to at least $5000, and live there for at least three years. You also have to cover the closing costs of the purchase.
54 Pershing maintains all the original exterior detailing like the eastlake window treatments, simple porch columns, and paired entry doors. Available for just $1
 A complete list of homestead eligible properties and vacant lots can be found here, but it has not been updated since 2011 and many of the properties listed have been demolished or sold. I've taken the liberty of looking up each home on google maps and the Erie county property site to see if it's still there and still owned by the city. All the homes that are still standing and city owned can be seen on this map I created. Many of the homes are in rough shape, but that's in part why they are only one dollar.
54 Pershing and its charming, well-maintained brick neighbor
Several people have already successfully purchased dollar homes with the help of fixBuffalo blogger, David Torke. The most notable success story is that of the Lyth Cottage on Harwood Place, more on that here. Some other properties include one on East Utica Street, a small cottage on Dodge Street, and a great place on Woodlawn Avenue, which was rehabbed by a local attorney. It's not impossible to get these old house operational again with some sweat equity and solid finances.
The Lyth Cottage was a $1 home and is almost fully rehabilitated
You'll notice many of the $1 homes are located on the east side, some are in neighborhoods on the rise and others, not so much. These four homesteaders are all west of the Kensington Expressway because neighborhoods like Hamlin Park, Cold Spring, and Masten Park are either already stable or working towards it. As development heats up around the medical campus it seems like more and more properties are getting some love and investment so picking up one of these gems in the near future may prove to be a solid investment in the long term.

This home at 393 Masten Avenue (google map) is in great shape and has some wonderful original detailing inside and out. It was built between 1893 and 1899 and has two twins just up the street on the same side at 407 and 413 Masten. I was pleasantly surprised by the interior of the home, because it wasn't packed full of the previous tenants belongings and the damage was minimal. Overall the house is very solid with a fair roof, but it does not have a basement. 
The neighbor on the right is a WWII veteran and a very nice gentleman, but the neighbor to the left in a vinyl clad new-build has been trying to get the city to demolish the home in recent years. Apparently a broken waterline to the home results in minor flooding in her basement, but take that with a grain of salt. If you'd like to see additional photos of the interior, check out my set on Flickr for the home here

One couple has chronicled the process of buying a city-owned home on their site, Unbreak my House that you may want to take a look at for some context. Their home was not a $1 house, but the acquisition process is somewhat similar. If you have an interest in any of the homes pictured in this post or on my Homestead Eligible Map please get in touch with me via or call the Department of Real Estate directly at City Hall at 716-851-5590. 


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May 7, 2013

Cheap Storefront/Apartment Building in Hamlin Park. Eligible for 20% to 40% Tax Credits for Rehab Work

UPDATE: This building is no longer available at this time as the current owner now has plans to rehab it for a restaurant. 

Here is a great opportunity for someone to create a live-work space in Buffalo's most stable east side neighborhood. This building at 321 East Delavan Street (google map) was built in 1926 by Louis Spiegel with twin storefronts and two apartments upstairs. While the building does require rehabilitation, it's a much easier project than 363 Genesee Street and because of it's location in the Hamlin Park Historic District, rehab expenses are eligible for a 20% to 40% tax credit.

The owner of this building currently owes about $2300 in taxes and user fees on the property and is willing to let it go for covering that payment and an additional $5000, but I have a feeling with some thoughtful negotiation that price could come down. If not, you've got a high visibility location, in a stable neighborhood, and adjacent to the Kensington Expressway for about $7500 that requires work. 


The roof seems fair for the immediate future, but there is a leak towards the rear as evidenced by the failing plaster on the rear wall and the soft floors in the second floor bathrooms. The basement is completely dry and appears to only be a partial basement. The storefront configuration remains intact including large transom windows, plate glass displays, and a recessed center entry. 


Tin ceilings remain throughout the first floor, but there has been some damage due to water infiltration. The apartments upstairs are in great shape towards the front, but the rear portion require attention, once again because of the compromised roof. Any interested party should expect that all new utilities need to be installed and some small portions of the floors need attention.


One of the best parts about this deal is the opportunity to utilize the historic tax credits for rehabilitation work. There are two options for this property, classify the project as a personal residence (not an income producing property) for a 20% homeowner tax credit or classify it as commercial (an income producing property) for a 40% commercial tax credit. 

If we assume the building needs $40000 then the 20% path would yield a $8000 tax credit, while the 40% path generates $16000 in tax credits. The 20% homeowner tax credit comes from the state, while the 40% commercial tax credit has 20% from the state and 20% from the federal government. 


The tax credits are applied to your state and/or federal income tax, so if the amount of tax credits are equal to your incomes taxes for the year you claim them, you don't pay taxes that year. However, If you have credits left over you can carry them forward twenty years or until they run out. Tax credits don't mean cash, unless you are going with the 20% homeowner tax credit. In that scenario you only earn tax credits applicable to your state income tax, but if the credits exceed your taxes, you get the difference back to you in a check. The federal credits do not have this refundable aspect to them.


This building is perfect for a number of different small enterprises. You could turn both apartments into one large master unit and utilize the storefronts for your own small business. A great little restaurant would go well in the neighborhood and would probably make a killing since there are not many nearby available dining options. Combine the revenue from a restaurant with one or two apartments and this building practically pays for itself if you're smart about how you do it. The building next door is also for sale currently with an asking price of $45,000, check it out here for the listing.

If you have an interest in this building please get in touch with me via For additional photos of the property check out my Flickr page.


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