Murder is rapidly becoming a common occurrence in America's most dangerous cities, making it one of the fastest growing types of violent crime in some parts of the country.
Worst cities and most dangerous cities in America, per capita; murders listed by city:
May 9, 2010
Buffalo's overall crime rate dropped last year, but murders, robberies and assaults all increased.
New statistics from the state reveal a 5 percent jump in violent crime last year even though overall crime dropped 4 percent.
The increase in violent crime — there were 3,920 incidents last year — can be traced to, among other things, a spike in homicides. Murders in the city increased from 37 in 2008 to 60 last year.
"Violent crime is what we should be targeting," said Darnell Jackson, an East Side community activist. "And the way to do that is to get kids off the streets."While murders, assaults and robberies were up last year, the number of burglaries, larcenies and stolen vehicles were down in Buffalo.
Overall, the number of nonviolent, property-related crimes dropped to 14,481 last year, down 6 percent from the year before and the lowest level since 2005.
Interesting Fact: In one day of travel, more than 55 percent of the U.S. population can be reached from Buffalo; approximately 65 percent of Canadians and 70 percent of Canadian manufacturing firms can be accessed within the same span of time. Buffalo is uniquely situated to transport goods by all means, including air, water, rail, and road.
(These slum houses, owned by City Hall, have helped make Ruhland Avenue ground zero in the fight against vacant and abandoned housing and the crime and blight that comes with it.)
(“When I first moved here…. It was a beautiful street and everyone pitched in.” — Dorothy Bobb, head of the block club on Ruhland Avenue where seven out of 10 properties are abandoned)
(Neighbor Paul Graefser has called the city to complain about this city-owned house on Pooley Place, which is full of debris, garbage, an abandonded car and collapsed garage.)
(The City of Buffalo owns these two houses, at left and right of alley, and all but a handful of lots on Ruhland Avenue. The house across the street is one of only a few still occupied.)
(An abandoned and decrepit house which is owned by the City of Buffalo on Massachusetts Avenue.)
(Myo Thant looks at the damaged condition of two vacant houses across the street from his house on Normal Avenue, one of which is owned by the City of Buffalo. Another neighbor described children playing on this property.)
Originally Published on July 6, 2008
If there’s a forgotten Buffalo neighborhood, a street abandoned and left for dead, it’s Ruhland Avenue. Walk down the quiet, tree-lined avenue, and you might think you’re in rural North Collins instead of the East Side. Walk a little farther and you’ll discover seven out of every 10 properties on Ruhland are vacant and abandoned.
And City Hall owns almost all of them [See Land Banks: A Ruse for Abolishing Private Property]. The two-block-long side street, once home to 50 or 60 families, now has 10 families, five on each block. A few houses, scattered here and there, still stand. But most of Ruhland is vacant lots filled with overgrown grass and weeds.
“This was a nice, nice street,” said Monique Brown, one of the few people still living there. “But now it’s the worst street over here.”Buffalo’s vacant housing crisis, decades in the making, has exploded in recent years and neighborhoods like Ruhland and nearby Harmonia Street are the poster children in the war against it.
Stroll down Harmonia, where 35 of the 53 properties are owned or targeted to be owned by the city, and you soon discover that vacant lots outnumber people.
And many of the lots, remnants of the homes abandoned and torn down, are often nothing more than dirt strewn with weeds and garbage.
“It’s a mess,” Robert Chapmon said of his street. “We don’t have any neighbors, and the city is neglecting its own properties.”Buffalo has the third highest vacant housing rate in the nation, and nowhere is the problem more acute than on Ruhland and Harmonia.
But don’t mistake it for an East Side problem. Or even a city problem.
A Buffalo News analysis of property, census and other records found:
- One out of every 12 or 13 properties in Buffalo — a total of 7,000 to 8,000 — will soon be owned by City Hall, making it Buffalo’s biggest landowner by far.
- Thirty-five percent of the streets in Buffalo have at least one city-owned vacant lot or house.
- • Buffalo’s vacant housing rate is the highest in New York and trails only Detroit and New Orleans among the 100 largest cities in the nation.
- The vacant housing problem is spreading into Black Rock-Riverside and the city’s first-ring suburbs.
- Crime is one of the by products of vacant housing. Six out of every 10 arsons in the city last year occured at abandoned buildings. They also act as a popular dumping ground for dead bodies — seven in 2 years — many of them murder victims.
Buffalo’s housing crisis, the result of 50 years of population loss, has rapidly accelerated in recent years. The city is now a community where 23 percent of the housing units are vacant, according to a 2006 census estimate. That translates into about 18,000 houses, or about one of every five properties in the city. The lion’s share are on the East Side and West Side.
The crisis is so big, so widespread, experts say, it may represent the single biggest challenge facing Buffalo’s neighborhoods.
“This is a big one,” said Kathryn A. Foster, director of the University at Buffalo’s Regional Institute. “It’s fair to say the vacant housing issue is a tremendous test for the city.”And one of the reasons why is because the crisis is spreading, quickly.
“Two-thirds of our city is under grave threat,” said Aaron Bartley, director of People United for Sustainable Housing, or PUSH, a grass-roots group working to rebuild the West Side.Bartley’s gloomy assessment is backed up by new figures from the U. S. Postal Service, which tracks the number of vacant homes where mail is “undeliverable.” Late last year, the agency identified 18,411 addresses in the city where mail is no longer picked up.
Even worse, the Postal Service data suggests the city’s housing crisis is expanding into Black Rock and Riverside and into first-ring suburbs like Cheektowaga.
“It’s almost like a virus,” said Priscilla Almodovar, New York State’s top affordable-housing official.In just six years, the city’s vacancy rate increased by 45 percent. And that was during a period when the city demolished at least 2,000 homes.
The owners of these vacant properties vary, but none owns more than the city itself.
By the end of this year, the city will own an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 properties, maybe more. About 60 percent of them are vacant lots.
The city’s property ownership is so great, there are now 44 city streets where City Hall owns more than 20 percent of the properties.
And nowhere is City Hall’s role as Buffalo’s single biggest landowner more evident than on the East Side.
An eerie tranquility
On streets like Playter, Ruhland and Harmonia, the city owns more than half the properties.
“When I first moved here, there were lots of houses,” said Dorothy Bobb, head of the Ruhland Avenue Block Club. “It was a beautiful street and everyone pitched in. Now, it’s all vacant lots.”Walk down the southern half of Ruhland, off Sycamore Street, and there’s an almost eerie tranquility to the neighborhood. The dead-end street is mostly vacant lots, with a few houses, most of them vacant, scattered here and there.
With the overgrown grass lots and lack of people, there’s a rural quality to Ruhland. A stranger would be hard-pressed to believe he was on the East Side and not Wales or Akron.
“If I owned one of those fields, I’d be cited,” said Jameel Collins as he pointed to a series of city-owned lots. “And if I owned one of those vacant buildings, I’d be in Housing Court.”On a warm, sunny day in May, the lots were overgrown with grass and weeds. Collins, who grew up in the neighborhood, said he used to mow the lots but stopped when he discovered City Hall owned most of them.
His sister, Monique Brown, is so fed up she wants to move and regrets not doing it sooner. Her son, Jamell A. Wright, 17, was gunned down on Barthel Street in April and died a few days later.
Even now, Brown wonders if moving to a better neighborhood might have saved her son’s life.
“If it was up to me,” she said of the street she calls home, “I’d start all over.”It’s a common lament. Start over. Start from scratch and rebuild the neighborhood house by house, block by block, street by street.
“My son keeps saying, ‘Let’s get out here, Mom,” said Zina Croom, a longtime resident of nearby Harmonia Street. “And I tell him, ‘Maybe someday you can take your Mom away from here.’ ”Street changes
Croom and Chapmon, Harmonia residents for more than 20 years, have seen the street change from a neighborhood of homeowners to a neighborhood of renters and, now, a neighborhood dominated by vacant lots and houses.
“If it’s owned by the city, why isn’t the grass cut?” Chapmon said of the lots across from his house. “The city is neglecting its own property.”On any given day, Croom can look down her street, and the only people she sees are the prostitutes working the corner at Sycamore.
She jokes about the problems she lives with, but it’s clear, as a mother with one teenage son still at home, she has fears. And, unfortunately for Buffalo, they’re not unique to the East Side.
On Pooley Place, a small residential street on the West Side, drug dealing and vandalism are the residue of its six vacant houses.
At one of them, 85 Pooley, a house targeted for demolition, the backyard is piled high with trash and clothes at least four feet deep.
The stench of garbage and dead animals fills the air. And in the middle of it all sits an abandoned car. Behind it, the remnants of a collapsed garage.
Neighbors say the house, which is open, is a playpen for drug dealers and an accident waiting to happen.
“This house is scary,” said Paul Graefser, a neighbor. “We have a lot of young kids on the street. This place is going to hurt someone.”Karen Podmore, one of the street’s self-appointed watchdogs, said the houses have been a longtime problem and yet City Hall continues to turn a blind eye.
“We’ve been complaining for years about these houses,” Podmore said. “It’s embarrassing. My family comes down here and wonders how I can live in a slum.”