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PUSH Buffalo celebrated the unveiling of their largest community development project to date on July 19 as they cut the ribbon on the formerly vacant School 77, now repurposed into a community hub that is home to 30 units of affordable housing for seniors, a community center, recreational gym, offices for local non-profits, and a new home for the Ujima Theatre.
LISC’s subsidiary, the National Equity Fund (NEF), invested $10.8 million in the project, which also features a massive rooftop solar array that will offer discounted energy to low-income subscribers in the community.
"School 77 is PUSH Buffalo's emergence as a real developer,” said Tony Lyons, VP regional manager of NEF. “[Longtime Buffalo LISC executive director] Mike Clarke made it clear that this project was a priority for LISC, for NEF, and for the city of Buffalo."
True to their roots, PUSH’s leaders and organizers approached this project the same way as they have with those that came before it – by doing grassroots, community-driven outreach and brainstorming. In 2014, they began seeking input from neighbors on how they wanted to see the building put back to good use. They received over 600 responses, which PUSH presented to the local council member and the City of Buffalo.
The #SaveSchool77 campaign led to the transformation of over 80,000 square feet of vacant space back into an asset for the community, providing not only affordable housing opportunities, but also space for recreation, arts and culture, and a base for local non-profits to thrive. Community residents will have access to performances by the Ujima Theatre company, a multicultural theatre group that focuses on preserving and perpetuating African American works and training aspiring artists. West Side youth will have access to Peace of the City, a non-profit group that provides programs to help at-risk youth succeed educationally and break the cycle of poverty. Residents will also be able to take advantage of recreational activities including basketball games and yoga classes.
"A few years ago leaders in the community came to me to see how we could save School 77. I am very excited to say that we saved School 77,” said City of Buffalo Council Member David A. Rivera. This is a transformational project for this neighborhood, the West Side and Buffalo. Our children need an indoor place to play, our senior citizens need an affordable, quality place to live, our artists need proper performance space, and we all need buildings that operate on renewable energy. School 77 meets all of those needs and beyond.”
Equally impressive to all of the opportunities within the building’s walls is the 64-kw solar array on its rooftop that will provide residents with a source of affordable, renewable energy. Tenants of the building will have an opportunity to subscribe to the solar energy, and any funds raised by the sale of solar subscriptions will provide an additional resource for future community led projects. PUSH also hired workers from the West Side to install the panels, providing job opportunities to further benefit the neighborhoods they serve.
"This is a frontline community of color that has worked for years to build up its supply of affordable, energy-efficient housing. School 77 takes their efforts to a whole new level,” said Rahwa Ghirmatzion, PUSH Buffalo's new executive director. “It's a textbook example of Energy Democracy, which is transforming communities across the country by advancing equitable and sustainable economic development that includes everyone, regardless of income or zip code, as we move to 100% renewable energy."
Learn more about PUSH Buffalo at their website: www.pushbuffalo.org