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BUFFALO, N.Y. — They say some things get better with age, but if you ask any of the residents of the 72-year-old Marine Drive Apartments, they’d tell you the buildings are proof that doesn’t apply to all things.
“This building smells like sewage. The windows have to be kept open because there's no way to control the heat,” said resident Barbara Aviles.
“The quality of life is really non-existent sometimes,” said Barbara’s daughter Alexis. “And as a person that needs accessibility, it's been really troublesome sometimes.”
Its management knows it too and is why the affordable housing complex is being torn down and rebuilt in its adjacent parking lot with its residents at the center of the decision-making.
“Marine Drive went from being the only thing on the waterfront to the worst thing on the waterfront,” said Gillian Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. “These are the people who've dealt with that all these years — with the wind and the bad conditions and the falling apart buildings. It's time that they were given a say in what their new community should look like.”
Tuesday night, the community was given their first opportunity to be a part of that process — meeting with designers and deciding how they wanted their new home to look. They discussed what features they wanted to add to improve accessibility, spacing, and heating, among other issues with the current building.
“What we’re doing here is pretty revolutionary,” Brown said. “If you look around the country, most cities that had dilapidated public housing on a revitalized waterfront moved all the poor people and sold off the land to developers, so rich people could live there.”
The housing authority also plans to complete the new buildings without displacing any of its residents by simultaneously moving them as the new units are built.
It vows that rates will not exceed 30% of its residents' income.
Residents say these promises make the multi-year construction process worth the wait.
“Living here has been actually a blessing,” Alexis Aviles said. “It's sometimes been a curse, but most of it is a blessing, and we're really blessed to know that we're not being ousted and that we do have a place to congregate and think about ideas and have workshops. It's really amazing and enriching for everybody that comes.”
The BMHA hopes to add 80 additional units to the 616-unit complex. It is aiming to complete the first phase by the end of 2025.