Jul 21, 2014

Two More Homesteaders Begin Rehabbing Their House in Hamlin Park

There’s more good news from the east side, specifically my Hamlin Park neighborhood. Another vacant, city-owned home has been successfully purchased through the Homestead program also known as the dollar house program.

My new neighbors and fellow homesteaders, Tom and Zoe agreed to let me interview them both about their purchase and their future plans for the little cottage they will soon call home. The pair is in their mid-twenties and will be a fine addition to the street. Check out what they have to say below.

Mike: What was the deciding factor to buy this house, in this neighborhood?

Tom: I first read about the homestead program sitting at my cafĂ© of employment out west. I was pretty sick of work and ready to move so home we went.  After reading about the homestead program, I scoured the City’s properties for months.  We were just looking for a good middle ground between the neighborhood quality and the home’s structural quality.  I was interested in Hamlin Park because it was the nicest neighborhood I looked in.  The tax credits were a bonus.  We also wanted something small so we jumped all over our little cottage.  We kind of dove into it pretty quickly and totally lucked out.  We moved back to Buffalo in October and closed on a house in June. Oh, also the train is nearby.  That was a big factor since I hate driving.

Zoe: When we first heard of the homestead program, we actually left it as only a joke for the longest time. In times of frustration, we would often refrain: "Let's just quit our jobs and buy a house for a dollar back home." But the more we learned of this bizarre system of financing your life away with homes, cars, school, etc., it really began to change my perspective of what a modern day miracle of a program homesteading is. As intimidating as the great amount of work there is to be done on the house is, this was a much more realistic option and fate I was interested in. We went through a lot of heartbreak learning of other houses we were interested were actually already taken, but in the end it was a true blessing because we were considering some ginormous houses that would have been way too much too chew for two folks on our salary. When we found Florida Street I couldn't believe our luck in finding the only cottage size home among full two story homes.

Check out the newly planted hostas, courtesy of the great guys next door
MikeWhat are your immediate plans for the house?

Tom: Gut it! Then run electric and plumbing.  I think we’re going to set up a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen area so we can move in and finish the rest.  It really changes the picture of how the house was built, which has led to little being decided.

Zoe: Definitely gutting it and figuring out how to work with the old bones of the structure. I'd also love to get a nice coat of fresh paint on the outside for cosmetics and liven up our parcel. Replace the front porch roof so we know our friends and family will enter safely.

Mike: How many surprises have you found so far and what were they?

Tom: Oooooh a number of them. And they just keep coming!  I was surprised whoever stole my tub got it out of there.  The amount of motivation the break-in and scrap guys have is just amazing. I still don’t know if our water line is severed or just shut off at the main. It’s like gambling with money you don’t have. There’s been a bunch of stuff we’ve found during demolition that I won’t mention here, but you can hear about it on my upcoming album, “Dead Things I’ve Found”.

Zoe: It's going to be a really good album. My imagination could run wild wondering what has taken place in this home and it certainly did on our first tour of the grounds. I found it fun to piece together oddities of the home like a window within the house and the narrow, winding stairs within a closet that we couldn't find for quite some time and mail with Eisenhower stamps. Walking through a home built in 1890 can fuel your curiosity on all the changes that have taken place with the past owners.

MikeHow have you felt in your short time during Hamlin Park?

Tom: I dig it.  It’s a nice little community we’ve all seemed to stumble upon here.  There are lots of families and homesteaders on the block. Sometimes I feel I do more beer drinking than housework, but that’s important too. There’s even a little seriousness to that statement.  It’s great we have a network of people just to keep an eye out on our places, and it’s proved to make the whole project more fun.  Last night it took me four hours to mow the lawn because I was just hanging out with the neighbors.  Mike, you were there.

Zoe: Is this a trap, Mike? Just another area that we completely lucked out on. I hope the homesteading program continues to draw in buyers and they are all fortunate enough to create these beautiful, collaborative relationships with their neighbors.

Here's a shot before any work has begun for comparison with everything is done
Mike: What do you envision for improvements on the street?

Tom: More trees would always be nice. Just fixing the sidewalk where it’s busted and picking up the trash. It’s the little things that make a difference, like broken windows theory. A lot of the places on our block look great. There’s a few not so great, but I think the neighborhood will fill in…Maybe someone will even start a garden on those lots next to my house… As for right now, I’m happy to have a home, a nearby the subway, and some eateries/stores nearby. I do envision some investment on Jefferson and Delavan. I think we all agree it’d be awesome to have some restaurants and shops nearby, so here’s hoping.

Zoe: It is just the little stuff. I find myself wanting to work on my house and everyone else's all at the same time. I grew up in a neighborhood where there was a collection of helpful neighbors all assisting with each other, so I would like to continue that and I am very excited to be connected with a neighborhood and tax-payer association that is so involved in caring for this area. I think trees and gardens make a huge difference in environment and of course a variety of healthy and positive restaurants and shops would be a tremendous perk.

Mike: Are we ditching the siding for that wonderful clapboard below? What about that porch too?

Tom: Ha, ha, ha.  Actually Mike, I will give you some credit.  It’s gone from a hell no to a maybe. I’m not a huge fan of the siding, but it will have to do for now. It is a good insulator after all.  As for the porch, well, it obviously needs a lot of work.  We’re probably going to just start over. Zoe just suggested we do a wraparound country porch all the way around the side. That would be awesome, but far into the future.

Zoe: I'd love to see an old photo! I'm a little afraid to see what is under that siding and also afraid to remove it, but I'm open to ideas and am excited to play around with the porch and railings. I love a good porch.

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Jul 18, 2014

Building with Endless Possibilities Hits the Market in Hamlin Park

Here's an exciting opportunity in Hamlin Park. A former factory building at 170 Florida Street (google map) is on the market and its location within the historic district entitles the rehabilitation of the building to be eligible for historic tax credits. It’s centrally located within the city and the proximity to Main Street, Canisius College, Metro Rail, and the Expressway are huge selling points.
The listing says the building clocks in over 46,000 square feet and with its open floor plans it could be converted for a variety of different uses including residential mixed use like many others have been converted in recent years.
The sale includes the various out buildings and the frontage extends all the way to Jefferson Avenue providing ample parking and opportunity for creative infill development. A linear park owned by the City of Buffalo behind the building could be a great amenity as well with some work. The owner is asking $750,000, but it seems like there is room for negotiation. Here’s a link to the listing.
The former George A. Otis Bed Manufacturing building was built in several phases, the oldest being the two and a half story concrete portion dating to c.1911. The two-story brick and tile buildings were built between 1923 and 1925. There were several other additions and outbuildings created over the following decades.
Originally the company was incorporated as the N.P. Chaney Company founded in the 1880s. As a Buffalo Courier article of 1912 explains the company, “has now been incorporated for the purpose of handling the constantly increasing business, growing from a small mattress factory to one of the largest plants in New York State.”
The factory was later used to produce plastic products during WWII by Bernard Oshei, the brother of John Oshei, the founder of Trico. It was used by several different manufacturers after Bernard’s death in 1948 including DuBois Plastics and Fibron Products before the last company went bankrupt and the building was sold.

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Jul 1, 2014

Views of Buffalo Goes to the Congress for the New Urbanism

Well the Congress for the New Urbanism rolled into town nearly a month ago and I’ve finally gotten around to doing a quick post about it. There have been flurries of different reviews both good and bad, but even some of the bad points have merit. Buffalo put its best foot forward mostly showing off the west side and downtown while experts weighed in on the good, bad, and the ugly. Downtown had its fair (and deserved) share of criticism. While it has been improving in recent years it has a long way to go and most signs point to it getting done properly.


My biggest criticism was that the east side and other neighborhoods that could have benefited from the visiting experts were left out of the mix. While I understand that the way these go is for people to get as much of the “good stuff” as they can, there were plenty of neighborhoods in Buffalo that could have been great testing grounds for new ideas. It would have been great to see Jeff Speck and Andres Duany in Broadway-Fillmore talking about where and how to begin breathing new life into the distressed neighborhood. It was a huge missed opportunity to start a broader dialogue in neighborhoods that have practically been forgotten by our city leaders.


Due to my hectic work schedule I was only able to attend one of the official CNU events, Towards a Walkable Buffalo by Jeff Speck. You can check out his presentation in full here. Speck’s talk was loaded with interesting facts and statistics, but he didn’t hold back about downtown’s failures. It’s definitely worth the watch. You can check out eight other presentations by visiting the CNU’s Youtube channel here.


Thankfully, I was able to attend many of the CNU NextGen events, which were probably better than many of the official presentations. It was a great opportunity to talk to many of the presenters one-on-one and show the good and bad of Buffalo. The bar crawl with pedestrian superhero Peatonito, the gathering at the grain elevators, and the tactical urbanism event at the Hotel Lafayette stood out as my favorites.


I even gave a tour of Hamlin Park for about 50 people, half of whom were visitors to Buffalo having never set foot on the east side. Robert T. Coles stole the show when we visited his home on Humboldt Parkway. He discussed his attempts to stop the destruction of Humboldt Parkway and how his experiences trying to stop some of the worst urban renewal mistakes Buffalo made.


At the end of the week I was lucky to celebrate with the key players in the NextGen events after a job very well done by them all. For additional photos of my CNU coverage check out my Ipernity album here.


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