If you live in Buffalo’s Bailey Green neighborhood, you know Henry White.
“I’ve been here ever since 1986,” the 85-year-old told News 4.
He has one of the nicest gardens on Wende Street, and he’s not shy about saying so.
Over the years, White has garnered a unofficial title.
“I am the Mayor of this street,” he said sitting in his living room, surrounded by dozens of family photos.
Over the years, White has seen his neighborhood change a lot.
“The city would come out and board them up and the next thing you know, they’re tearing them down,” he said walking down Wende Street, pointing out now vacant lots.
Habitat for Humanity has stepped in and rebuilt several homes in Bailey Green. Harmac Medical Products, which is headquartered there, has also worked to improve the neighborhood; all positive changes, White told News 4.
Still, there’s many homes boarded up with an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, other parts of the Queen City have seemed to flourish; millions in state money has been invested in the RiverBend site, the medical corridor, and the waterfront.
“There was flight, people moving out. There were buildings that were demolished, there buildings that were destroyed,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said during a stroll along Jefferson Avenue.
The Mayor told News 4 the east side was hit harder than other parts of the city in the 60s and 70s.
Brown sits on the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council; the panel, along with Empire State Development, advises how Buffalo’s Billion dollars should be spent.
Rebuilding Mayor Brown told us, will take time.
“These investments have been very strategic. All of those factors over 50 years has an impact. Now fast forward, if you invest 20 million, 50 million in this part of the community and you invest 50 million in another part of the community, that never had that kind of disinvestment, they’re going to look different.”
Some in the Queen City feel recent state investment has created a larger economic gap.
“The majority of people are not doing well,” said UB Professor Henry Taylor.
He’s spent decades studying urban development, and founded the Center for Urban Studies at UB.
Taylor said Buffalo is facing the same problems as a lot of rustbelt cities; he explained widespread gentrification is making the rich richer, and the poor, poorer.
“There is not a single example anywhere, any place, any time, where trickle down has done anything other than trickle down. It does not work, it’s fantasy,” Taylor said.
Recent development and new luxury housing downtown and in the Fruit Belt he said, is threatening middle to low-income residents who have lived there for years.
“I think we want the developers involved. But we want the developers involved in a way that benefits the neighborhood as a whole,” Taylor told News 4.
We asked Mayor Brown what he’d tell residents who feel they’re not reaping the benefits of state investment to places like the downtown area or the waterfront.
“Downtown Buffalo is for all of us.The waterfront is for all of us, we all enjoy it,” he said.
News 4 asked Governor Cuomo the same thing when he was in Buffalo in April.
“The distribution of the Buffalo Billion benefits have been region wide, there is no doubt about that,” Cuomo said.
He also indicated that the goal of the investment is job creation.
According to the State Department of Labor, more people in New York are working; a recent report showed the state’s jobless rate as the lowest its been since July of 2007.
Specifically in Buffalo, there’s been a 1.2 percent employment gain.
But White wants to see growth in his own neighborhood, something he hasn’t seem much of.
“We pay taxes just like the people downtown do.”
“Most of my kids like the east side, because that’s where they were raised up at. And they don’t want to leave, but they want to see some of the city doing something for the east side.
Mayor Brown showed News 4 around a couple of sights he said are working to do just that.
The Western New York Workforce Training Center lies within the Northland Corridor Redevelopment Project on Northland Avenue just of Fillmore Avenue on the east side.
The training center is funded via $29 million from the Buffalo Billion and $15 million from the New York Power Authority.
The training center is set to open in August of this year.
350 people will be trained there annually for future jobs in the region.
We asked if White was familiar with the project; he said he was, and told us the project gives him some optimism.
According to the Governor’s Office, more than $1.5 billion has been allocated to the Buffalo Niagara region through the Buffalo Billion Phases I and II.
The largest investment, $350 million dollars of Buffalo Billion money, going to the land and the construction of Solar City at RiverBend.
Both the unofficial mayor of Wende Street and Buffalo’s Mayor agree the east side is moving in the right direction; White would just like to see it move a little faster.
“We want that kind of vibrancy again,” Mayor Brown said of the east side.
“Even more, we believe we can achieve it.”