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Friday, October 31, 2008

The joys of insurance

Today I discovered the reality of owning a house. I suppose I had some vague idea of the insurance web that I would be entangled in, but three different insurance policies on one house/rehab venture??

1. Home owner's insurance. Makes sense--it would be terrible if the house suddenly burned down and I didn't have it insured. It'd put a definite damper on the project.

2. Liability insurance. You know, for the random passerby who's looking at the newly installed rain catchment/greywater recycling system and isn't paying attention to the fact that the sidewalk has actually come alive and mysteriously decided to attack his/her left foot, latching on so the person smashes face first into the ground, knocking out two front teeth and having the angle of their ankle oddly resemble L'Arc de Triomphe.

3. Liability insurance#2. If you are ever thinking about involving the community(heaven forbid), be sure to insure yourself because when someone hits themselves with a hammer while working on your property, you're at fault. Who knew you could be responsible for other people's mistakes?

So I was on the phone with the insurance company for about an hour, explaining how I need insurance, but with the way the in rem auction and deed transfer works I technically don't get the deed for another month. Yet according to the city of Buffalo, even without the deed I am responsible for the property? Weird. Anyway, after all of this the insurance guy asked me, "You stressed yet?"

To that I simply replied, "it's all a learning experience." Now I know--insurance is a necessary evil. At least I'm warned for the next time I want to purchase/rehab a house.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Defining the "problem"

So we all know that Buffalo gets a bad rap. I tell people at school I'm from Buffalo and the responses I typically get are "Oh, you must like snow..." or "how does it feel to have your sports teams ALMOST win?" and the occasional "that's so close to us here in NYC, you must go home often!"

Well, I happen to love all four seasons of Buffalo weather, I hate when the Sabres and the Bills lose (but they won't this year!), and if you didn't know, Buffalo is 400 miles away on the other side of the state (totally separate from NYC), so no, I do not go home as often as I'd like.

Anyway, all this to say--Buffalo's reputation precedes it in one way or another, and oftentimes the reputation is not a very good one. Unfortunately this negativity seems to affect Buffalonians' opinions, causing a "poor us" mentality which, more often than not, results in pessimism and an action gridlock on many social issues and city plans. We begin to think that solutions are hard to come by and frankly not worth the time it would take in years of bickering. This is especially the case with the current housing crisis.

An estimated 40,000 houses lie vacant in Buffalo. Forty thousand! If an average family of four occupied each of those homes, Buffalo's population would rise 160,000 from under 300,000 to over ~450,000! Clearly this will not happen if there continues to be suburban sprawl and a lack of jobs, so that still leaves us with a considerable housing problem. What should we do with these properties? Should we demolish/deconstruct all of them? Rehab them?

To be sure, it must be a combination of many strategies. To say that rehabbing is the only answer is unrealistic given our decreasing population (who would move into all these homes?), but to say that a good plan is getting rid of all the structures and throwing them into landfills is equally as out of touch with reality. Adopting a middle of the road policy and allowing for both downsizing and revitalizing is the strategy I believe Buffalo must take.

I have chosen housing rehabilitation as my contribution to the solution. A small part of my decision was to see one less house demolished. The old homes in Buffalo are gorgeous if you put a little time and effort into them! I also decided to tackle this project given chats I had with friends, relatives, neighbors this summer. What I often found when talking with them was that people (including me!) just don't know how to maintain their homes. If you have enough money then sure, you can pay someone else to worry about it, but a) not everyone can afford to do so, and b) if everyone did that, no one would take pride in and feel connected to their neighborhoods! This makes up the second component of my project: offering the house as a learning space where workshops are offered on everything from home repairs to basic maintenance to lawn/garden creation. Lastly, my decision to start this project stemmed from my belief that there are answers to the housing crisis that we haven't even dreamed up yet. My thinking is, if I can provide this house as an open slate to try anything on--invite people with new ideas, new technologies, new rehab techniques, variations on traditional methods--then perhaps we can work collaboratively and arrive at a solution that makes sense!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Step One: Buy a house!

Hello and welcome! In the future this is where I will be posting updates on the progress of my project. The first update I have is really really exciting news--today I purchased a house through the foreclosure auction! The house is a cute little two-family dwelling on the east side of Buffalo. It has been unoccupied for over a year and needs a lot of work, but it definitely has character! The current plan for this house is to use it as a learning center for the community--anything from home repairs to gardening workshops will be hosted there in order to teach about basic home maintenance, food security, and sustainability. I chose the name Buffalo Basics for this blog/project because I think that it is important to stress the need for "going back to the basics." As a society it seems we have lost these things that were once common knowledge, so I believe it is important that we return to the basics of home ownership and food sustainability if we are to envision a better Buffalo community. In my next post I will explain the hows and whys of this project, the impact I see it having, and how you can be involved.

Until then,